Commission debates in lead-up to vote on Michigan's new electoral maps

Lansing — Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission began Tuesday what may become a days-long process of approving the final electoral maps for voting districts for the Michigan House, state Senate and U.S. House. 

The maps will govern the state's elections for the next decade. An expected vote by the end of the week comes after months of public hearings and feedback, map-drawing and comments for and against the new districts. 

Whichever maps the 13-member panel picks, the last three standing of the 15 proposed, are expected to be challenged in court — likely on a variety of different issues. Public commentators have voiced concerns about the proposed maps' dilution of majority-minority districts, district lines that combine or divide counties and the division of some communities of interest in favor of keeping others whole. 

An assemblage of pastors and politicians gathered in Detroit on Tuesday morning and urged the commission not to "crack" Detroit by dividing it, and its neighborhoods, into other communities, and diluting the Black vote.

"The city of Detroit right now is at a precipice," state Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, said during a news conference at the Shrine of the Black Madonna on Linwood. "We're talking about whether or not it will continue to have representatives that are from this community."

Commissioners M.C. Rothhorn, left, and Steven Lett speak together as they listen to public comment at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

Lawyers for the panel told commissioners earlier this month that they could make changes to proposed draft maps before a final vote this week without restarting a 45-day clock for public comment. 

The advice appears to upend the general consensus over the last several months that any changes during the last 45-day public comment period would restart the clock for public comment, dragging the commission's work into 2022 and butting up against deadlines for candidates to file to run in the redrawn districts for state House, state Senate and U.S. House.

The opinion was contained in a Dec. 1 legal memo released late Monday night to media outlets that won a case last week seeking disclosure of the commission's legal memos and closed-session recordings.

More:What lawyers secretly told Michigan redistricting panel in documents, audio

The memo noted it was still a legal risk for the commission to make changes without a subsequent public comment period, but an argument could be made that it was allowed under similar administrative rule standards. The memo indicated technical changes would be an easier sell with the courts than larger, substantive changes based on public feedback, but lawyers indicated there may be legal windows for both.

Maxwell Lewis of Detroit speaks during the public comment portion of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission meeting in Lansing on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.

The once-in-a-decade redistricting process is Michigan's first to be conducted under a 2018 constitutional amendment that established an independent citizens redistricting commission. The panel, made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents, has replaced the former system that left the redrawing of electoral districts to the majority party and often resulted in gerrymandered maps.