State selects 250K people to receive redistricting applications

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

About 250,000 Michigan voters have been selected to receive a mailed application to participate in the state’s new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. 

The state will mail the applications at the end of the year to the individuals randomly selected from the 7.5 million individuals in Michigan’s qualified voter file. 

The constitutional amendment approved by voters a year ago requires Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to mail at least 10,000 applications, but Benson’s office chose to mail a larger number given what officials believe will be a low return rate on the mailed applications. Each completed application must be notarized to be considered for the commission. 

Stephen Blann, a CPA with Rehmann LLC, prepares to randomly select 250,000 Michigan residents who will be sent applications to participate in the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.

As administrator of the program, Benson said she plans to implement the application and selection process with “transparency and independence at every step.”

“The random selection today is reflective of this approach and obligation to make the mandate from voters a reality,” Benson said in a statement. 

The 13-member commission will be tasked in 2020 with redrawing the boundaries of Michigan’s voting districts for the state House and Senate and congressional districts. The commission will be made up of four self-identified Republicans, four Democrats and five who do not identify with either party.

The state already has received roughly 6,000 online applications that applicants have yet to notarize. It has “several hundred” additional applications completed and notarized, said Jake Rollow, a Secetary of State's department spokesman. 

The 250,000 mailed applications will cost roughly $165,000 to print and mail, compared to the smaller 10,000 application requirement that would have cost about $11,000.

“We wanted to make sure we had enough mailed applications out there to get a good response rate and to meet what is in the Constitution,” Rollow said about the 250,000 name sample. 

Individuals have until June to apply, when the independent firm, Rehmann LLC, will narrow the pool to 200 people who “mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state of Michigan.” The list will be provided to House and Senate, and state legislative majority and minority leaders each will be allowed to strike out five names. 

The final selection of the 13 also will be a random process led by Rehmann. 

Between fall 2020 and fall 2021, the 13-member commission will meet, host town halls for input and eventually draw the maps for the 2022 elections.

The selection of 250,000 individuals on Nov. 19 (Tuesday) was broadcast via livestream, in part to keep the process as transparent as possible. Stephen Blann, a certified public accountant with Troy-based Rehmann LLC, used a software system to randomly select the group before sending the list to Wolverine Solutions. 

Wolverine Solutions will mail out the applications to those selected before the end of December.  

Voters approved Proposal 2, the constitutional amendment creating the commission, with 61% support in November 2018. The ballot initiative was spearheaded by Voters Not Politicians.

Republicans are challenging the commission in federal court, alleging the rules surrounding the selection of the commission discriminate against some residents by prohibiting individuals from serving if they have partisan connections.  

The constitutional amendment prohibits service on the commission by anyone who in the last six years was a partisan candidate, elected official, political appointee, lobbyist, campaign consultant and officer, or member of the governing body of a political party.

It also prohibits a parent, child or spouse of any of those individuals from serving on the 13-member commission.

Because they were the majority party, GOP lawmakers controlled the state’s redistricting process in 2011 and were successfully sued for political gerrymandering of “historic proportions.”

But the U.S. Supreme Court tossed the three-judge ruling that would have required a substantial redrawing of district maps in Michigan in time for 2020, earlier than the planned 2022 redrawing.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the conservative majority that gerrymander claims involve "political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts." 

"Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties...," Roberts wrote in the 5-4 decision, arguing that letting them do so would be an "unprecedented expansion of judicial power."