After hours-long meeting, redistricting panel draws first two draft Senate district maps

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan's redistricting commission on Friday drew its first two draft Senate districts after an hours-long meeting filled with procedural questions as commissioners learned the mapping requirements and software they'll use through the end of the year.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will have to complete by year's end a complicated puzzle of 38 Senate districts, 110 House districts and 13 Congressional districts that reflect equal populations, geographical contiguity, communities of interest and several more criteria.

The process was at times frustrating for commissioners as data experts and legal counsel corrected, reminded and guided the group.

"We’re halfway through our meeting now and we haven’t drawn a single district," said commission member Dustin Witjes. "This isn’t working.”

Members of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission started drawing maps in southeast Michigan Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 as part of their first dive into the 161 voting districts they'll have to finish drawing by the end of the year.

The commission's communications and outreach director, Edward Woods, encouraged the group hours into the meeting, noting Friday marked the first time in Michigan history where such a diverse body was publicly developing the voting maps. There were bound to be challenges, Woods said. 

"You are the only body in the state of Michigan that can draw maps. No one else can do it," Woods said. "You have a serious responsibility that you’re not rushing through, but trying to make sure every voice is heard.”

The commission's first two of 38 draft Senate districts were drawn in the southeast Michigan region, which comprised Livingston, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

One district largely followed the current Senate district boundaries, encompassing Lenawee and Monroe counties along with the northern half of the city of Milan and Augusta Township — both of which are located in Washtenaw County. 

The second Senate district includes at least parts of five counties: All of Jackson and Hillsdale counties and bordering townships in Washtenaw, Branch and Calhoun counties. 

The first two maps are only drafts subject to adjustments later on as the commission draws other districts, takes public comment and considers other factors, such as communities of interest, Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Szetela stressed Friday. 

"They will likely be revised," she said. 

The commission started its meeting with the intent to first approve communities of interest for the south-central and southeastern regions of Michigan. Communities of interest, which can range from economic to religious to cultural similarities, are the third criteria – behind equal population and geographic contiguity – that commissioners must consider while drawing maps. 

The commission spent about two hours trying to parse through communities of interest map suggestions in south-central Michigan that had been submitted by the public before pivoting to drawing maps by population.

In the two hours they reviewed communities of interest, the commission approved several, including ones that roughly outlined Lansing area school districts, the tri-county area made up of Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties and farming communities. 

The commission abandoned the task to begin drawing districts in southeastern Michigan with the expectation that the group will get better, trend-specific community of interest data on Monday. 

Based on new census data, the commission will attempt to create districts containing 265,193 people in each state Senate district, 91,612 people in each state House district and 775,179 people in each Congressional district. 

The state districts can deviate by 5% more or less than the population target while the Congressional districts can deviate by about 0.05% from the population target. 

Voters opted to create the independent commission in 2018, moving away from a process in which the majority party drew maps every 10 years. The 13-member commission is made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five members who do not affiliate with a party. 

The maps drawn by the commission will be used for the 2022 elections. The commission plans to have draft maps ready for public comment by Oct. 8 and then will proceed to a 45-day public comment period on Nov. 14, with final approval planned for Dec. 30.