by Bruce Walker
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Committee late Tuesday approved new congressional and legislative maps the state will follow for the next 10 years.
The 13-member panel, established by state voters, was formed to curtail gerrymandered districts in the state. The MICRC is made-up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. The committee voted to approve what’s been dubbed the “Chestnut Congressional” map, the “Hickory House” map, and the “Linden Senate” map.”
Whereas the previous congressional map delineated 14 congressional districts, the map approved Tuesday contains 13 districts. According to FiveThirtyEight, the proposed Chestnut map has four Democratic-leaning seats and six Republican-leaning seats, a drop from eight Republican-leaning seats from the previous map. Additionally, Chestnut creates three districts considered to be highly competitive.
Although the new maps were applauded by some members of the current administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, other groups from both parties are less pleased and some have indicated legal challenges are imminent.
“The majority-partisan commission just took gerrymandering to new lows,” Cameron Pickford, communications director for the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, told The Center Square.
“After secret meetings, secret memos, limiting public comment, ignoring communities of interest and now violating the Voting Rights Act with their approved maps, it’s no wonder commissioners were trying to keep the public in the dark. This is what happens when you hand the redistricting process to unelected and unaccountable individuals.”
Eric Ventimiglia, executive director for Michigan Rising Action, also expressed his group’s displeasure with the new maps.
“It is laughable that the Commission and their supporters are congratulating themselves on approving these maps,” Ventimiglia told The Center Square. “After all of the secrets and constitutional violations, the Commission’s finished product is maps that violate the Voting Rights Act and break up communities of interest. The blatant gerrymandering in these maps makes it impossible for Michiganders from Detroit to Ironwood to take them seriously.”
Not all Democrats were happy, either. Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan C. Kinloch, chair of the 13th Democratic Party Organization, expressed his displeasure with the redistricting commission’s maps.
“The Michigan Redistricting Panel needs to realize that their actions cannot continue the disenfranchisement of African-Americans and other communities throughout Michigan,” Kinloch said in a news release.
He continued: “These current Congressional maps are a step backward, limiting the voice of African-Americans and that is unacceptable. On behalf of all the people of Michigan, we are in discussions to retain attorney Todd Perkins and we are ready to file suit if necessary to change these maps and make them fairer for all.”
Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act “prohibits drawing election districts in ways that improperly dilute minorities’ voting power. This prohibition applies to states, counties, cities, school districts, and any other governmental unit that holds elections.” The statute identifies two common forms of gerrymandering against ethnic communities, “cracking” and “submerging.” Cracking occurs when a predominant racial or ethnic community is broken up into several separate districts. Submerging is a practice wherein a minority community’s voting strength is diluted by placing or “submerging” it into a district with enough non-minority members to significantly reduce the election chances of the minority’s preferred candidate.
The MICRC’s proposed maps violate the 1965 federal law, according to Michigan Civil Rights Department Executive Director John Johnson Jr., who told the Detroit News: “They dilute minority-majority districts and strip the ability for a minority voter to elect legislative representatives who reflect their community and affect any meaningful opportunity to impact public policy and lawmaking.”
Johnson is a member of the governor’s cabinet.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, however, praised the MICRC’s efforts.
“Today Michigan’s first Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted across party lines to adopt new district maps for our state, completing the most open, independent and citizen-led redistricting process in Michigan history,” Benson said in a statement.
“The new maps are the culmination of years of work, driven by millions of Michiganders from all walks of life. They advocated fiercely to give citizens the power to draw their own district lines and made their voices heard throughout the entire process,” Benson continued.
Benson, however, did not address the recent MICRC scandals which arose last October when the committee held a secret session. Although the Michigan Supreme Court ruled last week the committee must make public any documents or recordings related to the secret meeting, nothing has been released so far.
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Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Michigan State Capitol” by Brian Charles Watson CC 3.0.