The University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy hosted an event addressing the state’s current redistricting process on Wednesday evening. The event also looked at how communities of interest — groups of people with shared interests and similar geographic locations — can promote their wellbeing throughout the process.
The redistricting process occurs every 10 years to create new legislative boundaries. This round of redistricting is the first time Michigan will use the new process passed in 2018 with a 61.27% approval rate, which emphasizes community involvement and communities of interest. In the past, Michigan has been considered to be home to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, part of the reason the ballot initiative was so successful.
The new redistricting process is led by 13 citizens randomly selected from more than 9,000 applicants. This group, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, is responsible for holding at least 10 public hearings, allowing Michiganders opportunities to voice their opinions on the redistricting process, and making the final district maps.
MICRC Executive Director Sue Hammersmith noted that the new process values citizen voices and community thought.
“Openness and transparency, as well as public engagement, represent the principles of this new redistricting process,” Hammersmith said. “Now, (citizens) have an opportunity to ensure (their) voice and community’s voice is heard instead of politicians choosing their districts to best represent their interest.”
Hammersmith also said the group will reference criteria voted on in the 2018 amendment to Michigan’s redistricting process, which is included in the legislation from most significant to least.
First, the districts must be of equal population and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination of any kind in the electoral or redistricting process. The districts must also be geographically contiguous, reasonably compact and consider county, city and township boundaries.
The districts also must reflect the diversity of the state, as well as communities of interests, in a fair and equitable manner. Finally, the districts must not favor or disfavor any specific political party or current elected officials.
Moon Duchin, a mathematician in charge of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group Redistricting Lab, announced the development of a technology that allows community members to express their concerns about redistricting and turn these concerns into a visual map they can submit to the committee.
Duchin said the group was excited to implement this technology, which aims to make it easier to express concerns to the redistricting committees. Historically, Duchin said it has been difficult to translate ideas from the community into suggestions for district lines.
“We tried to make a really user-friendly mechanism for taking what you have to say about where you live and what makes it special, (what the) shared interests (are), (what) animates that community,” Duchin said. “We wanted people to be able to attach that through a map to turn it into the kind of data that you can view while drawing boundaries.”
Duchin said making the technology accessible to underrepresented communities is pivotal in achieving equitable representation.
“(MGGG Redistricting Lab has) training materials. There are videos in not only English and Spanish but also for other (languages, such as) Haitian, Creole and Navajo,” Duchin said. “And so a big part of making a tool accessible is putting in the time to work with people and show them how to take their ideas and turn them into maps. (This) has been a huge turning point in the types of submissions we saw in the (submission) portal.”
Hammersmith said the revision of citizen-submitted maps on Friday will allow them to further look into public commentary and determine if the districts within each map are representative of those included.
“It will be very interesting and challenging for the commission to take in this information, and then determine if they should adjust lines that have been drafted,” Hammersmith said. “Even when they go out on the road for the public hearings, these are draft proposed maps. They’re going to continue to take public comment. They will continue mapping until they get to the point where they will have proposed plans.”
Hayg Oshagan, a professor at Wayne State University, noted the importance of community effort to include all voices in the redistricting process.
“People have to actually come together, figure out what is our community of interest; leadership has to be formed,” Oshagan said. “Things have to be figured out.”
Hammersmith closed the event by stating her confidence in the redistricting committee for respecting community opinions and the concerns of underrepresented groups in Michigan.
“That’s exactly what (the redistricting committee is) doing,” Hammersmith said. “They’re taking communities of interest into consideration, they know the criteria that’s listed in the Constitution and they’re utilizing that criteria in a non-partisan manner. I’m pleased with the way they work together in drafting maps. They’re a wonderful group of people that are really committed to the process, and committed to getting the job done.”
Daily Staff Reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.