Leaders of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Committee (MICRC) held a news conference Tuesday to speak on the officially adopted congressional maps for the state of Michigan.
Following years of engaging in community feedback, the commission adopted the Chestnut Congressional map, Linden state Senate map and Hickory state House map. The approved maps will be in place until the next redistricting cycle in 2031.
The Chestnut map — which removes the state’s two majority-Black congressional districts — was backed by eight commissioners and gives Democrats a 7-6 advantage in the next election. The Linden map was backed by nine commissioners and leans 21-17 Democrat, a move that shifts the control away from Republicans in the state Senate for the first time since the early 1980s. The Hickory map was backed by 11 commissioners and leans 54-56 Republican.
Throughout the drawing and consideration of various maps, the commission said they heard several concerns from citizens about gerrymandering and ensuring accurate representation for Michigan voters. The commission — led by 13 citizens randomly selected from more than 9,000 applications — had more than 25,000 comments from across the state over the course of 130 open meetings.
The MICRC’s work is the first time in state history that an independent citizen-led commission handled the redistricting process. In 2018, Michigan voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that created the commission, requiring their work be done open to the public.
MICRC Chairperson Rebecca Szetela said that the most exciting aspect of this redistricting process was the citizen participation.
“This has been an exciting and invigorating process and I am so proud to have been a part of it,” Szetela said. “This is the first time that we have had citizens throughout the state have the ability to comment, participate and assist in the drafting of congressional districts, state House districts and state Senate districts, and that is a fantastic testament to Michigan and a fantastic testament to this commission that we were able to do it.”
Commissioner Brittni Kellom agreed, saying that she appreciated the ways in which the commission was able to work together.
“We live in a society where voting and trust and being a caring brother or sister to your fellow citizen isn’t always the value and I think we had an opportunity to reinstill that in Michigan,” Kellom said. “I think that that above all is a testament to what true democracy looks like. It’s a testament to what it looks like to work together and build community no matter what your race is, no matter what you believe in, no matter what you do in your personal life, so that has been the beauty of the commission.”
During the press conference, the commission said they received significant feedback from citizens who were concerned with the lack of representation for Black residents in the state, particularly in the city of Detroit.
Kellom said that if the commissioners had more time to draw out the maps and get to know areas across the state, especially Detroit, the final maps likely would have been different and more considerate of the Black population in Michigan.
“I know Black people all over, and particularly in Detroit, will continue to do what they need to do to survive, which is to galvanize and to be active and to do what they need to do,” Kellom said. “Do I wish that there was more time to get it right? Absolutely, because I truly believe that the way that you answer and restore pain and healing is to give people a head start and a head start is not cheating when you’ve gone so long without.”
Szetela said that while she believes the approved maps are in agreement with the Voting Rights Act, she said she is still concerned that a lack of data about Black voters, especially in and around Detroit, may have impacted the fairness of the final maps.
“Unfortunately with this process being so data driven, there’s just an absence of data that we can’t analyze to determine that,” Szetela said.
Szetela, Kellom and Commissioners Rhonda Lange and Erin Wagner all voted against a motion Tuesday morning that would have stopped the commission from considering new maps. If approved, however, this motion would have extended public comment by enacting a new 45-day period, which would have given the commission more time to consider other maps or draw new maps.
Szelta said that an extension of time may have allowed for more fair maps to be drawn that would more accurately represent voters.
“I think the biggest issue for us was just time,” Szetela said. “Unfortunately, we happen to have this inaugural commission come into play during a pandemic which created all sorts of challenges both with the ability for us to meet in person and with the ability to get data from the Census Bureau that assisted us in drawing the maps so despite that extraordinary challenge, we rose to the occasion, we worked really hard and we managed to get these maps done in a timely manner.”
Moving forward, Kellom advised all citizens to examine the maps and continue to actively participate in voting and democracy.
“I would tell the citizens to understand the map – whatever feeling you have on it – understand all three maps and what that means for you in the future, and then develop and devise and create and reimagine, just like we did, a plan that allows you to be the most successful and what that means and I hope as a commission, we can have opportunities to facilitate that conversation,” Kellom said.
Despite conflicts in support for the approved maps, Communications and Outreach Director Edward Woods III said that having a citizen-run commission allowed for more fair maps to be produced.
“In 2018, voters in Michigan, by more than 61%, said that they wanted voters, citizens, Michigan residents to draw the maps and not politicians so that they can have fair maps and prevent gerrymandering,” Woods said. “Tonight, we are happy to report that that has taken place.”
Commissioner Douglas J. Clark said that he is proud of these maps and that the commission worked hard to represent all communities as best they could.
“We just can’t meet everybody’s needs 100%, so we chose to move forward and do the best we could to get to that point and we recognize there’s probably some things that some folks like and other things they don’t,” Clark said. “There’s conflicts in everything that we went forward to discuss. We made it where we thought it represented the largest part of the society and I’m personally very proud of the products that we’ve produced.”
The commissioners said that they do not plan to sue the commission moving forward, but they may still face legal challenges.
Daily News Editor Kate Weiland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.