Redistricting panel plans to ask Supreme Court to delay deadline for new maps

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan's new redistricting commission plans to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to extend the Nov. 1 deadline for completing the redrawing of the state's voting boundaries. 

The 13-member Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted unanimously Friday to seek relief from the High Court at the recommendation of its counsel because late Census Bureau population data will make it impossible to meet the Nov. 1 deadline outlined in the state Constitution. 

The request would be filed in conjunction with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, whose office faces similar deadline conflicts because of the delay in Census Bureau data, said Julianne Pastula, general counsel for the commission. 

If the commission doesn't file proactively to delay the deadline, it would open itself to actions filed by a third party on the same subject, Pastula said.

"If we don't take action, we're going to become victims basically; it's going to be dictated to us," said commission member Doug Clark. If the commission has "ownership" of the process, Clark said, “we get to draft the terms that we think are in our favor at least going to the Supreme Court.”

Supporters of an initiative to create an independent redistricting commission gather outside the Michigan Supreme Court on July 18, 2018

Census Bureau data crucial to the redistricting process won’t be available until Sept. 30, which creates a problematic delay with the constitutional timeline for redrawing Michigan’s state House, state Senate and congressional districts. 

Under the 2018 constitutional amendment that created the new redistricting process, the maps must be available for public comment for 45 days before the Nov. 1 deadline for voting on the final maps. That would require maps to be available to the public by Sept. 17, 13 days ahead of the Sept. 30 release of data needed to draw the maps.

"When this law was created in 2018, I don't think anyone could have predicted a global pandemic could happen or the administrative issues" within the Census Bureau, said Anthony Eid, a commission member. 

"I think its quite a reasonable ask to get the date pushed a little bit," Eid said. 

Because the deadline is outlined in the state Constitution, the commission must ask the Michigan Supreme Court for a delay, Pastula said. 

"The Michigan Supreme Court is the only entity that can provide this relief to the commission particularly," she said. 

Shortly before the commission's vote, Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater said the census data and redistricting delay will have a domino effect on the deadlines facing the Secretary of State's office as it works to align the state's qualified voter file with the new district maps.

That work includes moving large groups of people from one district to another depending on which new district a community falls within, as well as address-by-address adjustments depending on precisely where a boundary falls. Precincts also may need to be changed for some voters, Brater said. 

"While we will try to streamline this as much as we can, we cannot sacrifice the accuracy and quality of the process," he said.