The Ford School of Public Policy held a virtual discussion Wednesday evening reflecting on Michigan’s citizen-led redistricting process and discussed how lessons from that process could be applied to the rest of the United States.
This event was hosted by the Ford School’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, the civic engagement organization Voters Not Politicians and Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Wednesday’s discussion was the final webinar in a series of events on redistricting hosted by Ford and was moderated by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.
The lengthy process of creating new district maps for Michigan ended on Dec. 28 of last year when the Michigan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission (MICRC) voted to adopt new congressional and state legislative districts. The commission, made up of 13 randomly selected applicants, was established after Michigan voters approved a 2018 constitutional amendment. Proponents of the amendment argued it would combat political gerrymandering by preventing elected officials and other influential partisan figures from participating in the redistricting process.
David Daley is the author of bestseller “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” a book credited in helping spark the recent movement to push back against gerrymandering in the U.S. Daley said the state’s redistricting process was a highlight among the nation’s ongoing efforts to combat gerrymandering. He compared the successful citizen-led redistricting commissions of Michigan, Iowa and California to those in less-successful states such as Utah, Ohio and Virginia.
“Some (states) broke down in bitter partisan enmity, some failed to produce maps at all,” Daley said. “Another was hijacked by partisans … You’ve asked me not to praise Michigan, but to give an overview of how well (redistricting) commissions worked in other states. And the answer is decidedly mixed.”
Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said she was especially pleased with the engagement levels from the public throughout the process.
“It is astounding how much public participation we got, it being the first ever citizen-led redistricting cycle we’ve ever had in this state,” Wang said. “The fact that we got 25,000 public comments … we got more (comments) than California, so that really is astounding.”
Last year, the MICRC held several public hearings and meetings to hear input from the public, including one at the University of Michigan in September.
Jon X. Eguia, an economics and political science professor at Michigan State University, is the lead author of the Michigan Redistricting Map Analysis, a Nov. 2021 report on the proposed redistricting maps. Eguia summarized his findings of the maps that have now been adopted by the MICRC.
“What’s great about the congressional Chestnut map is that however you look at it, whichever measure you use, it comes up great,” Eguia said. “That’s not so on the state legislative maps for the Michigan Senate and House.”
Eguia then touched on the current controversy regarding the new maps’ elimination of some majority-Black districts in Detroit, the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the MICRC. He singled out the Linden map for the state Senate as falling short of what would be expected given the area’s demographics.
“The Michigan Senate map, Linden, has only one district… when the normal range would be two to four,” Eguia said. “You get a city (where) urban, mostly Black voters (are) split into districts that are neither urban nor Black — they are suburban, mostly non-Black voters … If you think that the people of Detroit are a community of interest bound together by cultural, historical or economic characteristics, then this map fails to reflect that community.”
Edward Woods III, MICRC communications and outreach director, responded to the criticism by stating that the commission abided by the seven criteria provided in the constitution when creating the maps.
“We’re under pending litigation exactly with regards to that topic,” Woods said. “I will stipulate that the commission did follow the seven ranked redistricting criteria as outlined in the constitution.”
When asked about what lessons from this process could apply to other states, Daley emphasized the importance of pushing back against politicians who seek to consolidate redistricting power away from citizens.
“It is really difficult to get politicians to let go of this process,” Daley said. “The most important thing to understand once you’ve got a commission in place is that you have to continue to be involved in the process … You’re always going to have politicians who are trying to worm their way into whatever pressure point they can … The coalitions that win these big victories have got to stay together and stay active.”
Daily Staff Reporter Irena Li can be reached at email@example.com.