Benson, redistricting panel ask high court for delay to voting map deadline

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the state's new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission have filed suit in the Michigan Supreme Court to request more time to draw Michigan's new voting maps. 

The lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks a delay that would allow the 13-member redistricting panel 72 days after receiving the census data to draw maps and then another 45 days for public comment before a final vote. 

Under that timeline, the maps for Michigan’s state House, state Senate and congressional districts would be up for a final vote on or before Jan. 25, 2022. 

"A decision from this court here would protect the commission's ability to draw fair and lawful plans pursuant to the orderly and transparent process chosen by the people of Michigan," the lawsuit said. 

The request to the state's high court was triggered by a separate delay with the U.S. Census Bureau, which told states recently that the new census data needed to redraw voting districts won't be available until Sept. 30. Usually, the data is available by March.

The census bureau's delay clashes with the timeline laid out in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018, which requires the new maps to be available for public comment for 45 days before the Nov. 1 deadline for voting and approving the maps. 

That would require maps to be available to the public by Sept. 17, 13 days ahead of the Sept. 30 release of census data. 

"If this court does not provide relief, the commission will be unable to timely update the existing congressional and state legislative district plans," the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit also notifies the high court of the effect the new timeline will have on the Bureau of Elections, which is tasked with updating the districts of every Michigan voter in the qualified voter file after the maps are redrawn. The update must be completed to accommodate August 2022 primary candidates, specifically the April 19, 2022, filing deadline.

In 2010-11, the voter file update took six months. 

"The Bureau of Elections is currently exploring ways to accomplish the updates more efficiently, but it is unknown at this time whether any significant time-savings may be had," the lawsuit said.