Michigan redistribution panel maps spark racial backlash, questions of fairness

Either way, African American leaders say there should be many more, especially since the commission spent two months drawing maps and collecting public comment.

“They did a listening tour before putting pen on paper and drawing the maps,” said Jonathan Kinloch, 13th Congressional District chairman of the Democratic Party and Wayne County commissioner.

“But, obviously, as they roamed the state, when they roamed black communities and received testimony from black voters around the state, they honestly didn’t listen to us.”

Other minority groups, including the Detroit area’s Bangladeshi and Hispanic communities, are more satisfied with the maps because they include districts that would make it a significant block or the majority.

The commission was created by voters in 2018 after decades in which the ruling party in Lansing has drawn maps every 10 years. This has led to districts that have given Republicans firm control over the legislature, even though the state is broadly Democratic.

The redistribution commission drew districts that tried to consider seven criteria, including voting rights law, “communities of interest” or like-minded groups, and political fairness.

They put less emphasis on maintaining county boundaries, which has created many odd neighborhoods, especially in Detroit, the largest predominantly black city in the country.

Of the current districts in the state, none of Detroit’s 10 State House districts touch neighboring counties. But three proposed maps have 10 districts that do, stretching like lanes from Detroit to Bloomfield Hills in the north.

In total, 10 different districts would cover the 17 miles of Detroit’s northern border, Eight Mile Road, up from four now.

“Equality doesn’t mean fairness,” said Yvonne White, president of the Michigan NAACP, earlier this week. “In addition to the one person, one vote doctrine, all redistribution plans must also comply with the requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “

The cutting committee followed the advice of lawyer Bruce Adelson, whom it hired to maintain the voting rights.

He argues that previous districts, drawn by supporters, have diluted minority voices by “crammed” into racially gerrymandered districts. Three State House districts are now 90% black voters, including one represented by Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, or 97% black.

Adelson argued that districts don’t need to be over 50% in the minority to ensure they get a strong vote. He suggested a lower threshold.

“The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that if you place additional minority voters in a district beyond what is needed to elect prime candidates, that’s a problem,” Adelson told Commissioners. early this month.

Edward Woods III, the commission’s director of communications and outreach, told Bridge Michigan that the commission is following the law.

He said there is no evidence that the draft cards violate the Voting Rights Act 1965, the federal law which guarantees that minority voters are not discriminated against when voting.

“At that time, our proposed cards passed a rigorous analysis to ensure compliance with voting rights law and eliminated the problem of gerrymandering during packaging,” Woods told Bridge Michigan in an email. .

“While there is a court of public opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court holds us accountable for the seven ranked redistribution criteria for drawing fair maps through public engagement. This is what voters wanted when they empowered citizens to manage the redistribution process.

Woods said those concerned should address them to the commission through its website or during the public hearings, which begin Oct. 20 in Detroit. Hearings will follow in Lansing (October 21), Grand Rapids (October 22), Gaylord (October 25) and Flint (October 26).

How much representation?

Districts are redesigned every 10 years after the census, and Detroit was doomed to lose weight as its population dropped from nearly 75,000 to 653,711.

But advocates like Kinloch and Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, say expanding districts to neighboring communities dilutes the city’s voice, as candidates would need the support of city and suburban voters to win.

“They’ve drawn the city of Detroit into districts the Detroiters won’t win, and blacks won’t win because the majority of the electoral base is in suburban communities, especially in the primaries where Democratic races are decided.” , Hollier said.

The Hollier neighborhood was going to change radically. Currently, it includes the North End, Harper Woods, all Grosse Pointes, Highland Park and Hamtramck.

Under the drafts, his district would stretch all the way to Madison Heights in Oakland County and pick up Greektown, the East Village, Hazel Park and Hamtramck.

Representation matters because, while African Americans make up 13.5% of Michigan’s population, they are historically under-represented in Congress and the Legislature.

Eleven percent of the 162 congressional and state legislative districts, 19 in total, are majority black.

Hollier and others want the commission to take into account the voting age – not just the population – of voters.

In a proposal Houses district which would stretch from the Belmont neighborhood in northwest Detroit to Farmington, the district’s total population is 48% Black, 38% White, and 12% Asian Americans.

The district, however, is made up of 47% Black and 40% White when only voting age is taken into account.

Longtime Republican strategist Jeff Timmer said Hollier and others’ complaints ring hollow.

Timmer helped draw maps in 2010 that courts determined to be gerrymandered and said black voters had long been “crammed” into districts – often at the behest of black incumbents who traded their support for more districts. sure.

“If people want to become parochial like this trying to gain advantage under the guise of voting rights law, all they’re doing is helping Republicans,” Timmer said.

He added that the commission should decompress the districts further.

“The needle is heading in the right direction, but the 10 maps the commission released this week show there is still a long way to go,” Timer said.

“And I would say they haven’t done enough to comply with the voting rights law.”

Joy to Banglatown

Other groups are much happier with the cards, which they say finally recognize them and keep their communities intact.

For months, members of the Bangladeshi community – mostly residents of Hamtramck and Banglatown – appeared before the commission so as not to divide them when they drew districts.

About half of the 5,000 residents of Banglatown, a community between Hamtramck and Detroit, are Bangladeshi-Americans, who activists say is one of the highest populations in the country.

“It’s a community that has stabilized the northern Detroit region,” said Kamal Rahman, a Hamtramck resident, in Bridge Michigan.

“When other areas… (were) in great decline in the 80s and 90s… (the) Bangladeshi community stabilized her, started buying houses and bringing her family here for a new life,” said Rahman.

“However, we are not getting the attention we deserve.”

Rahman said he was relatively happy with the draft maps released by the commission.

According to the proposed maps of Congress and Senate, the community remains united. But the House neighborhood leaves out about four blocks.

Rebeka Islam, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan, said community members from Bridge Michigan will show up at meetings to ensure the commission resolves this issue.

She added that the latest proposals are better than the ones the committee originally drew.

“It shows that public commentary is working and that they are listening to us,” Islam said. “We shouldn’t have to go back, you know, that’s the problem we shouldn’t have to go back. But it showed that public commentary works.

Other Bangladeshi activists said they would like to see a district that includes the town of Warren, and said they would ask the commission to reconsider it.

Detroit’s Hispanic community, meanwhile, is also famous because one district, along southwestern Detroit and River Rouge, is said to be 55% Hispanic.

Mary Carmen Muñoz, executive director of Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, said it was “amazing” to have such a neighborhood.

“This map could have a significant impact on the lives of Latinos in southwest Detroit,” Muñoz told Bridge Michigan. “It could affect – it will affect – resources, it will affect education. “

Oscar Castañeda, community organizing and advocacy coordinator at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, agreed.

“Everyone knows that minorities are not really good at going to voting booths on election day, and when you talk to the community one of the main reasons is that they don’t feel represented,” he said. said Castañeda. “To be able to say that there is a neighborhood where we could potentially have a Hispanic who really cares about Hispanics – that’s huge.”

– Bridge Michigan reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed

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