Redistricting panel advances 9 Michigan maps for final public comment

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the code names for a draft congressional map and the number of black majority districts in two state House maps. 

Nine maps that could play a starring role in Michigan's elections for the next decade will advance to 45 days of public comment later this month. 

After weeks of marathon meetings, hundreds of public comments and sometimes heated debate, Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission advanced on Thursday the last of its maps for consideration. The final products include three U.S. House, three state House and three state Senate maps that set the district lines for 13 congressional races, 110 House seats and 38 Senate seats.

The maps from the 2018 voter-approved 13-member commission — which includes four Republicans, four Democrats and five non-affiliated members — mark the first time Michigan's voting maps were redrawn by an independent body. In past redistricting cycles, the maps were drawn by the party in power every 10 years, resulting in maps that were drawn to favor one party over another.

In addition to those collaborative maps, the commission has until Monday to submit individual maps for consideration. The timeline for submission of those maps could change depending on legal advice the commission receives ahead of its Monday meeting. 

Commissioner Rebecca Szetela listens to citizens during the public comments portion of a land redistricting meeting earlier this year.

Experts anticipate nearly all of the maps entering the 45-day public comment that begins Nov. 15 will result in Democratic majorities based on an analysis of past election data. Still, most analyses say the maps maintain a slight advantage for Republicans, one that is out of proportion to their actual presence in the state.

Areas of debate among commissioners and complaints from the public about the congressional maps have centered on the dilution of Michigan’s two Black-majority districts in the Detroit/Wayne County area, as well as how best to fairly divide up Oakland and Macomb counties in the east or Kent County in the west.

After weeks of pushback against the breakup of majority-minority districts, the commission this week approved two state House maps — Magnolia and Hickory — that allow for seven majority Black districts. That number is down from the 17 currently in place, but more than what was present in the initial proposed draft maps.

In the last several weeks, pressure mostly from the public has been mounting on all sides as the commission attempted to balance the demands of their constitutional edict, with critics targeting the breakup of majority-minority districts, fracturing of counties and communities of interest and the balance of partisan fairness. But in more recent weeks, local politicians attuned to the reverberations of a district changes have chimed in.

State Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, a critic of the panel's early maps, said Thursday that the Detroit changes to the House maps were a "good first step" and advocated for the commission to keep the Detroit communities together. 

"We want to see as many people of color and Black people, in particular, being represented in our communities as they already are," Yancey said.

The commission initially included zero majority-Black districts in the public hearing phase in an effort to "unpack" past efforts to isolate the Democratic vote to certain districts. 

But Black leaders urged the commission to change course because they said it would be unlikely Black people in the unpacked districts would be able to elect a Black candidate of their choosing if they were combined with suburban Democrats. 

Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only member of Congress who lives in Detroit, said she’s concerned about how the draft state legislative maps have “divided our communities in a way that I think is going to be harmful for the next decade.”

“The state legislative maps are very problematic in regards to how all residents going to be represented on the state level, which impacts their life even more than the congressional” level, Tlaib said, noting district lines drawn straight through Detroit neighborhoods like East English Village. 

She said the commission’s consideration for communities of interest seemed to have “fallen by the wayside.”

“It's so incredibly important because people will get true real representation and a strong voice if their communities that have shared values and interests are staying together,” Tlaib said. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday noted that in its efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act and correct boundaries that disenfranchised Black voters, the commission still should aim to create districts that would allow for the election of a Black official. 

"Detroit is an 80% Black city and its residents are entitled to the commission's best efforts to maintain Black representation at the state and federal levels by drawing fair lines," Duggan said. 

Splitting up counties 

Various draft maps for the U.S. House draw multiple incumbents into the same districts together, depending on the map, potentially disrupting over a half dozen members. Two Democrats, Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, have already indicated they’ll likely move to run in a different district in 2022.

Part of the crunch for incumbents is that Michigan is losing a seat in Congress, going from 14 to 13 districts, as a result of slow population growth relative to other states.

The map code named Chestnut would slice Oakland County into six U.S. House districts and loop Southfield, Beverly Hills and Franklin into the majority-minority district (No. 12) that includes Dearborn, Livonia, Inkster, Westland and other parts of central Wayne County. The other proposed maps don’t include any of Oakland County in District 12, keeping it all in Wayne. 

In the west, the Chestnut map would divide Kent County by drawing Grand Rapids in with northern Ottawa County and southern Muskegon County.

The major differences between the maps nicknamed Apple V2 and Birch V2 are in west Michigan. Birch V2 cuts Ottawa County — the state’s fastest-growing — into three districts but keeps Kent County intact in a district (No. 3) with western Ionia County and eastern Ottawa County. 

Apple V2 would loop Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo into the same district that would lean more Democratic. The same map features a lakeshore district that runs from Berrien to Muskegon counties.

For the Senate maps, debate rotated around the break up of the Midland area so that the city would be pushed into a district with Bay City and Saginaw in the Senate Cherry V2 map. 

'Tearing apart ... communities'

In addition, commentators criticized the split of Lansing and East Lansing to create two districts that combined the cities with rural areas.

The Cherry V2 map included controversial Senate districts near Ann Arbor, one of which would combine the bottom half of Ann Arbor with rural parts of Jackson and Hillsdale counties. Under the Cherry V2 map, if Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey were to run again, the Clarklake Republican would have to run in that Democratic-leaning district. 

House Speaker Jason Wentworth on Thursday told commissioners in a letter that their handling of communities of interest and partisan fairness measures ran "against the letter of the law and the spirit of a fair system." Communities of interest comes before partisan fairness in the order of constitutional priorities the commission must follow, the Farwell Republican said. 

"Tearing apart well-known communities to try and benefit one party or another is not just wrong, it is contrary to the entire purpose of this commission," Wentworth said. 

He warned the commission against being taken in by "partisan hired guns" attempting to manipulate the system, while acknowledging they might take his advice "with a grain of salt" given his Republican roots. 

"Just because my traditional opposition is the side mobilizing activists, holding press conferences and generally trying to shame the commission into obedience doesn't mean I can sit and watch democracy take a backseat," he said. 

After the 45-day public comment period, the commission will vote Dec. 30 to give final approval to one map each for the state House, state Senate and Congress.

If the commission is unable to get majority support that includes two Republicans, two Democrats and two non-affiliated members, commissioners then would use rank choice voting to decide their favorite map. The commission has four Democrats, four Republicans and five non-affiliated members.

If there aren't clear winners after the ranked-choice voting, the highest-scoring maps would be entered into a pool from which Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson would randomly pick a winner.  

Expected seat split for proposed collaborative maps

Congressional

Chestnut: 7-6 split favoring Democrats

Birch V2: 7-6 split favoring Democrats

Apple V2: 7-6 split favoring Democrats

State Senate

Cherry V2: 20-18 split favoring Democrats

Palm: 19-19 split

Linden: 20-18 split favoring Democrats

State House

Pine V5: 57-53 split favoring Democrats

Magnolia: 56-54 split favoring Democrats

Hickory: 57-53 split favoring Democrats