The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission kicked off a month of campus meetings around the state at the University of Michigan’s Union on Thursday, hearing from community members about their hopes and concerns for the redistricting process. Redistricting refers to the ways in which state and congressional legislative districts are chosen.
The commission was approved by Michigan voters in 2018 to lead the state’s redistricting process and ensure that Michigan’s congressional and state districts are redrawn fairly and transparently.
The commission began by meeting with a group of students during a “Democracy and Donuts” event Thursday morning, hosted by the Turn Up Turnout student group. LSA junior Andrew Schaeffler and LSA sophomore Nicholas Martens moderated the session and asked questions from students.
The commissioners discussed why communities of interest — groups of people with shared heritage, cultural norms or beliefs — matter in the redistricting process, noting that college students would be considered one of these communities. The group emphasized the importance of hearing from constituents and said they hope to hear more from young people during their visits to other Michigan colleges and universities.
Commissioner Anthony Eid also said community involvement is important so people can represent their own communities, rather than the commission interpreting the needs of communities they may not be familiar with.
“We’re not going to define your communities for you,” Eid said. “It’s up to you to define your community.”
The commission’s second session of the day was held in-person from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Michigan Union and began with an opportunity for attendees to comment on the redistricting process.
Public concerns included ensuring that rural and urban votes are weighed equally, attempting to place people in districts where they both live and work and emphasizing partisan fairness.
Following the public comments, Lisa Handley, a former employee of Election Data Services, discussed how a proposed plan would be evaluated in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
Handley said redistricting plans cannot “crack or pack” majority-minority communities — a practice commonly used to limit the impact of the community’s vote — meaning the groups cannot intentionally be split or concentrated into a district to dilute their vote.
Gerrymandering is widespread in Michigan, disproportionately increasing the number of representatives allocated to Republicans as compared to the proportion of popular votes they have received in previous elections.
A final portion of the meeting was held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., which also featured public comments.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit spoke at the meeting and said he thinks the city should be split into two districts, with Ypsilanti having different representatives than those in West Ann Arbor.
“The city of Ann Arbor must be split,” Savit said. “Vote packing is the most prominent and modern feature of partisan gerrymandering.”
Business sophomore Zach Solomon said he thinks the commission should emphasize partisan fairness in the state legislature. He also suggested splitting communities, using the example of separating Lansing and East Lansing into two districts.
“While it’s important to maintain communities of interest, it’s also important to balance these communities of interest with partisan fairness,” Solomon said.
LSA senior Greta Kruse, co-chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said she thinks Democrats are being packed into districts, such as students in Ann Arbor who are largely liberal. As a result, Kruse said, students are not receiving enough representation.
“I came to speak to the commission today because I wanted to emphasize the importance (of) partisan fairness when drawing the new regional districts,” Kruse said. “And moreover, it is no small thing to me that I feel like my vote is not going anywhere.”
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