By Anita Richardson
Michigan Deltas Redistricting Cohort, member
DST Saginaw Alumnae Chapter (SAC), member
SAC Social Action Committee, Co-Chair
SAC Publicity and Communications, Chair
Saginaw Deltas encourage the public to continue to weigh in as Michigan enters the final phase of the state’s Redistricting process. In an effort to reflect the will of Michigan residents in drawing the boundaries for choosing elected officials, a 13-member voter approved, independent commission recently moved 15 proposed maps forward for public review and comment.
Nine of the proposed maps were drawn collectively by the Michigan Independent Citizens Commission. Proposed maps include three U.S. House, three state House, and three state Senate, setting district lines for 13 congressional races, 110 House seats and 38 Senate seats. A 45-day public comment period, which began Nov. 15, continues through Dec 30.
Upcoming MICRC Events:
- Thursday, Dec. 30
- 10:00 a.m. – TBD
How to weigh in:
Residents can offer feedback on their preferred district boundaries by submitting comments on the proposed maps to the commission’s public comment portal. The maps can be viewed michigan.gov/micrc under “Proposed Maps.”
Information on the impact of each proposed map on majority minority and African American communities, including the Saginaw, Bay City, Midland, and Flint area is posted below.
For more information, Michiganders are encouraged to check out the commission’s web site or call 833-968-3729. Keep in mind, formal comments on the redistricting process cannot be taken over the phone.
If you do not have internet, feedback can be mailed to the commission at MICRC, PO Box 30318, Lansing, MI 48909.
Quick Reference: Making Effective Comments
- Include a specific location with your instruction or request, i.e. city of Flint, or Bridgeport Township.
- You might suggest a city or neighborhood be kept together in a single district, or…
- You might suggest that two cities be separated into two districts, or…
- You might request a group of cities be drawn together as a single district.
- Use well-known boundaries like county lines as borders between districts.
- It may be helpful to include distinctive features that define your neighborhood like parks, schools, roadways, or other geographic features.
- This sort of information is helpful to commissioners as the salience of your community may not be apparent to those who lack local knowledge.
- Talk about your community’s needs and how they can be best addressed by elected representatives if your neighborhood or district is kept together or separated.
- Define your community by the people within and explain why they deserved to be drawn into the same district or separated due to their demographic, cultural or commuting patterns.
Public Comment Instructions:
Just cut and paste the sample comment, below, then click to submit your public comment via this link: public comment portal. Feel free to revise the sample comment at will.
- Scroll to the bottom of the page to the “Submission Form”
- Use the fill in form to record your “written comment”
- Fill in your title, i.e., Redistricting – Saginaw”
- Fill in any miscellaneous info requested within the portal.
- Use the hashtag #SaginawVotes
The Voting Rights Act requires the Commission to draw majority-minority districts to prevent vote dilution in communities of interest.
If votes in our districts are significantly diluted, communities like mine, in Saginaw – along with similar districts in Flint, Southfield, Pontiac, Taylor, Inkster, Redford, Hamtramck and Detroit, could be denied an opportunity to elect the candidates of our choice.
As a registered voter in Saginaw County, I strongly urge you to reconsider the proposed boundaries for electoral maps before your final vote on Dec. 30.
Every 10 years, congressional and state legislative district maps are drawn after the U.S. Census Bureau’s population count. In the past, the party in power was charged with drawing the lines and the result often favored one party, most recently in Michigan – the Republican Party, over another. Although the MICRC’s proposed maps come closer to “leveling the playing field” between Republicans and Democrats than Michigan residents have seen in decades, issues of debate persist.
The Commission’s stated objective, to unpack African American voters and spread them out through adjoining districts, would effectively dissolves majority black voting districts in favor of strengthening the Democratic vote in outlying districts. By packing and stacking minority districts, Republicans have been able to gain a partisan advantage in Michigan elections for decades through a practice known as gerrymandering.
Cracking is when the African American or minority communities are dispersed throughout several districts where there is no majority of minorities. The practice racially polarizes voting and renders minorities unable to elect a candidate of their choice to in any district.
Stacking concentrates the minority community into a small number of districts so that their votes are wasted even though their preferred candidate will win by an overwhelming margin. Often the minority community is concentrated into one large district, assuring they will have no influence in all outlying areas.
Given Michigan’s history of extreme gerrymandering, the necessity to end the legacy of partisan decision making remains crucial. Due to ongoing contention, Commissioners became embroiled in heated debate with citizens over this matter. At issue was whether these majority minority communities of interest would retain the ability to choose the candidates of their choice if their districts were unpacked.
Following a prolonged schedule of public meetings to hear from concerned citizens on the issue, the MICRC finished the mapping process. Having relented to ensure the existence of several black majority and plurality districts, the Commission simultaneously accomplished its goal of unpacking many majority minority districts in an effort to end partisan gerrymandering.
The Commission’s decision on the final three maps in the redistricting process is expected by December 30. These maps will determine the district boundaries in the 2022 election.
Impact of Proposed Maps
The following information is pulled from a November 10 Bridge Michigan report, which outlines the impact proposed maps would have in majority minority and African American districts.
Overall, every proposed state House map would give Democrats a majority in the lower chamber.
The number of majority-Black seats in each map ranges from three to seven. Those seats would be in Detroit and Flint.
The Magnolia map keeps Flint in one district, but excludes Flint Township. This map could give Democrats 56 seats and Republicans 54 seats based on voting patterns in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections. Meanwhile, map Pine V5 creates four majority-Black districts and splits the House 57-53. The Hickory proposal would create a similar split.
Commissioner Rebecca Szetela, an independent who serves as chair of the commission, submitted an additional House map that splits Flint and Macomb County, and creates five majority-Black districts in Detroit, and one in Southfield.
That map would give Democrats an eight-seat advantage in the state House.
In terms of state Senate maps, only one proposal creates majority Black districts in Detroit.
The map, submitted by Commissioner Brittni Kellom, a Democrat from Detroit, creates three districts with a Black voting age population over 50 percent.
This proposal would also keep Novi in one district, and could split the upper chamber 20-18, with Democrats becoming the majority if voting patterns from recent elections continued.
The proposal with the lowest partisan fairness scores is the Palm map, which is biased towards Republicans. That map, also collaborative, would keep Ann Arbor in one district, and could lead to an evenly split, 19-19 Senate.
Members of the public will have five potential congressional maps to provide feedback on. None of the maps create a majority-Black district, and they differ on how certain big cities are treated.
The maps could give Democrats seven seats, which would be a one-seat majority, with the state now having just 13 congressional districts.
The Birch V2 map, for example, creates a district that would include Midland, Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint. All of Kent County will make up one district, and all of Lansing will be in another district.
The Chestnut map would also keep Midland, Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint together, but would pair Grand Rapids with Muskegon, and Kalamazoo with Battle Creek.
The Apple V2 map would create a district that goes from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to Schoolcraft.
Two commissioners — Szetela and Lange —submitted individual maps.
Lange’s proposal keeps Midland with the rest of Midland County. All other maps have split the city off into congressional districts to the south and east, a move that has drawn scorn from residents and politicians of the area. Lange’s map also splits Lansing.
The Party with the Pen
How redistricting affects Michigan’s populace and its political power
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Michigan Deltas Redistricting Cohort
By Anita Richardson, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Michigan Deltas Redistricting Cohort
In Michigan, extreme gerrymandering has been a long term problem. Far too often redistricting plans can be designed to dilute votes cast by minorities or disenfranchised communities. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 is supposed to give minority voting blocs a fair chance at representation. But during the last voting cycle, Republicans used their full control of state government to produce some of the most extreme gerrymandering in the country.
Grand Valley State University political science professor Erika King said in the 2014 race for state Senate in Michigan Republicans barely topped Democrats in total votes but claimed 27 out of 38 seats as a result of gerrymandering. She further states, “It’s very carefully done. It’s not unique to Michigan or to one malign political party. …If you are the party in power, it’s what you do.”
The practice of gerrymandering all too often involves “packing” high numbers of African American and minority voters into a small number of districts or “cracking” minority groups by placing small numbers of minority voters into a large number of districts. Gerrymandering has allowed lines to be drawn so republicans control most districts in Michigan. Drawing lines to pack black populations together instead of spreading them throughout districts allows the elimination of likely Democratic voters from exercising power in certain districts.
In a bid to end extreme gerrymandering in Michigan a grassroots movement launched a campaign for reform. In 2018 voters approved the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Committee (MICRC) to draw both legislative and congressional maps. In 2019 a federal court agreed and ruled Michigan must redraw its maps. Republicans sued to block the commission from going into effect but have thus far been unsuccessful.
The Voting Rights Act requires the Commission to draw majority-minority districts to prevent vote dilution in communities of interest Congressional Districts are based on division of population across districts. Making an area of representation smaller renders the state rep more accountable to hear the concerns and interests of their constituents better. Seemingly ignoring the concept of “communities of interest,” the Republican strategy to achieve its goal – power, is to leave Michigan Democrats with a need to make gains in the suburbs – in order to make crucial legislative decisions.
The Michigan Constitution also provides a rank criteria that the Commission must use when drawing electoral district maps, stating diverse population and “communities of interest” must be reflected. It states, “Communities of interest may include, but shall not be limited to, populations that share cultural or historical characteristics or economic interests.
According to Mike Wilkinson, a Bridge Michigan reporter. “The Michigan Senate is the most impacted and imbalanced by gerrymandering according to the efficiency gap” methodology. In 2014, Republicans won 27 seats compared to 11 for Democrats. The GOP typically won their races by tighter margins, while the Dems captured safe seats in blowouts.”
An article in Michigan Advance estimated that any district that is at least 40% Black would be likely to elect the Black-preferred candidate and most districts having a population at least 35% Black would, as well. In metro Detroit, in particular, some districts are 80% or 90% African American.
Similarly, according to the Redistricting commission, Michigan is anticipated to achieve increasing representation from within the African-American community as a result of its proposed map, which it deemed in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
To the contrary, a Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) report, analyzing the proposed maps, disagrees. It found that the commission’s approach of splitting up Black communities may not be a successful plan as it is based on insufficient, unavailable voter data that doesn’t take into consideration primary elections. The Commission, the MSU report says, needs to better assess whether their districts are likely to enable preferred candidates to win racially-polarized primary elections.
MDRC Legislative Liaison Dr. Jerome Reide recently released an analysis showing electoral maps offered by the redistricting commission violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
Prior to Michigan’s map drawing process, the Redistricting Commission hosted a series of 16 public meetings across the state to solicit input and feedback from members of the public. Additional public meetings were added after public outcry regarding voting rights issues. Although the maps have since been adjusted to feature more majority minority districts, they still do not nearly equal the majority minority districts currently in place in Michigan.
Michigan currently has 22 majority minority districts, 17 of which are African American — two in Congress, five in the state Senate and 10 in the state House. The significant reduction in the number of majority minority districts in the redistricting commission’s nine collaborative maps, adopted Nov. 5, remains at issue because only two of the nine maps proposed by the redistricting commission — both state House maps, contain seven majority minority districts each.
If votes are significantly diluted in communities in Saginaw, Flint, Southfield, Pontiac, Taylor, Inkster, Redford, Hamtramck and Detroit, African American and people of color could be denied an opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.
Michigan Civil Rights Department (MCRD) Director John Johnson, who urged the consideration of minority voters, told the redistricting commission at an Oct. 20 hearing, “If an electoral map results in the dilution of the minority vote or infringes on a minority’s right to elect the candidate of their choice, it does not meet the requirements of the law, the Michigan Constitution or the test of fairness.” Johnson also urged the redistricting commission to accept a MCRD resolution.
Similarly, Jon Eguia, the MSU report’s lead author and an MSU professor of economics and political science, suggests the MICRC offer justification for how its plans comply with the Voting Rights Act and with the related Equal Protection clause in the U.S. Constitution. The MSU report also raised a red flag that more than half of the proposed maps are incomplete and leave some populated geographic areas of Michigan unassigned to any district.
Republicans continue to battle against the commission’s efforts as residents in majority minority districts continue to express their own concerns with the new redistricting process and the proposed lines around minority communities. Heavily populated areas like Detroit, in Wayne County, remain of most concern to citizens of color, many of whom see continued disenfranchisement in the map drawing process, despite the Commissions stated objective – to unpack majority-minority districts in a bid to end extreme gerrymandering.
Michigan now is in the final phase of the state’s redistricting process and nine proposed maps have been advanced by the redistricting commission. The maps will undergo a 45-day public comment period and commission will take one last vote on Dec. 30, where they will grant final approval to one map each for the state House, state Senate and Congress. The selected maps will determine the district boundaries in the 2022 election and will play a decisive role in Michigan elections for the next decade.