Michigan redistribution board maps spark complaints from all sides
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LANSING – As the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission rushes to complete draft congressional cards and legislation, progressives and conservatives are voicing concerns about fairness.
On Thursday, the nonprofit Voters Not Politicians which organized a local effort in 2018 that led to the creation of the panel released a letter calling on members to “do a lot better” and draw cards both politically. balanced and preserving the voice of minority voters.
“For the good of the public, I hope this means that you will strive to achieve the levels that they show you can achieve, rather than settling for something that may or may not be legally defensible,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of the group.
The criticism reflects the ongoing tensions in the process which is first occurring in the public eye. For decades, the ruling party in Lansing secretly drew legislative boundaries after the decennial census, resulting in what a panel of federal judges called the nation’s worst gerrymandering.
Voters approved the creation of the panel, and it could vote on card projects as early as Monday. The group then plans two weeks of public hearings before finalizing the districts in time for next year’s elections.
But the final days of deliberations proved difficult, especially as the 13-member commission’s initial plans gave Republicans an edge in the state legislature, even though Michigan as a whole is rather Democratic.
This is because the panel tried to prioritize the preservation of “communities of interest” – groups of like-minded individuals such as minorities – rather than partisan fairness.
Adjustments to projects that make districts more politically fair, however, have generated a setback when communities of interest are divided – such as the LGBT community that lives around Palmer Park in Detroit.
In recent projects, the neighborhood – and surrounding areas – has been split into three House quarters, which activists say dilutes their voices.
Bob Chunn, president of NextVote, a Michigan-based map analysis company, said he realizes the community is too big for a House district.
âIt needs to be cut, but not that bad,â he wrote in an email to Bridge.
âIt’s possible to make a fair map that keeps important communities of interest, like Detroit’s LGBT Palmer Park intact,â Chunn said. “
“I saw them. They were submitted by citizens of Michigan … It’s a shame to let great ideas go to waste.”
Edward Woods, the commission’s director of communications, told Bridge Michigan that the commission takes public comments, as well as legal requirements, into consideration when developing maps.
Adjusting districts to make them fairer for both political parties has also sparked complaints against Republicans.
Until Thursday, the commission had used the results of the last 13 elections, along with four metrics, to determine whether districts were politically fair.
But one of the commission’s consultants on Thursday suggested using election data from 2016 to adjust constituencies.
It was the first time since 1988 that a Republican presidential candidate wore Michigan, so using that data alone could result in maps favoring Democrats since 2016 was something of an aberration.
“You can’t use just one electoral cycle to determine partisan fairness,” Tony Daunt, executive director of conservative rights group FAIR Maps Michigan, told Bridge Michigan. “Anyone suggesting this is either a jerk or trying to benefit one party over another.”
Kimball Brace, the commission’s mapping expert, told Bridge on Thursday night that he had suggested using the 2016 election because it was one of the most contested in the state.
âIt had nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans,â Brace said, adding that the commission should look at closed contests as part of its partisan fairness analysis.
The cards aren’t the only criticism.
A liberal group, Progress Michigan, also lambasted the panel Thursday for asking $ 61,446 for a Freedom of Information Act request for all communications between commissioners and members of the public and outside groups.
Progress Michigan said the commission said the documents contained 38,000 pages, but cut the price in half because it missed the deadline to respond to the request.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement that the group “will use all available legal remedies to ensure that the public has access to these records.”
“We’ve seen these tactics before used to dissuade the public from accessing what should be publicly available information, but usually by shady officials … not a new commission based on the transparency of the redistribution process,” Scott said. .
Bridge asked committee spokesperson Woods detailed questions about the cost and timeliness of requests for documents from the committee.
He responded with a statement that the panel “continues to operate in an open and transparent manner. From the start, all of our meetings have been live streamed and still available through our Facebook page and YouTube channel. Following the compiled laws of the Michigan regarding FOIA requests, we also continue to operate in an open and transparent manner.