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From our State Capitol in Lansing to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, WKAR is committed to explaining how the actions of lawmakers are affecting Michiganders. Political and government reporter Abigail Censky leads this section. There are also stories from Capitol correspondents Cheyna Roth, Rick Pluta and the Associated Press. As the 2020 presidential race begins, look here for reports on the role Michigan will play in electing or re-electing the president.

Secretary of State Seeks Input On Redistricting Forms, Eligibility

Jocelyn Benson, Michigan's first Democratic secretary of state in more than 20 years gives her inaugural remarks.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Michigan's top election official on Thursday released proposed application wording and eligibility guidelines for people wanting to serve on a new commission that will draw congressional and legislative districts instead of lawmakers.

In our view, this will historically influence several decades into the future for how this independent commission is run, so we're mindful of that - Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said her office will accept public input until Aug. 9. She called it the initial step in the first phase of a three-phase process that will culminate with new maps in 2021.

The 2018 voter-approved ballot initiative that created the panel spells out the process by which 13 members — four Democrats, four Republicans and five with no affiliation with either party — will be selected at random. The law also includes eligibility rules.

Benson, a Democrat, cited a couple areas where she decided to provide clarification regarding eligibility to sit on the commission. The constitutional amendment, for instance, says commissioners cannot currently be or in the past six years have been a candidate for partisan federal, state or local office. Others excluded from serving include state or legislative employees, lobbyists and paid political consultants.

She set the six-year cutoff date at Aug. 15, 2014. She declared that candidates to be a political party's precinct delegate since that date are ineligible to serve on the panel. And she determined that applicants must get their applications notarized because of a requirement that they swear or affirm under oath that the information they provide is truthful and accurate.

"We're not just going to be doing this process correctly and effectively and as best as we can, engaging citizens at every step of the way," Benson told reporters. "In our view, this will historically influence several decades into the future for how this independent commission is run, so we're mindful of that."

After the public-comment period, the secretary of state's office will make applications available starting this fall through June 1. It also will mail at least 10,000 applications at random to residents by Jan. 1.

Benson said she hopes hundreds of thousands of citizens apply. A total of 200 applicants will be drawn at random, after which the four legislative leaders can eliminate five each. Then 13 will be chosen at random from the 180 remaining.

The constitutional amendment — which aims to restrict partisan gerrymandering — requires that the commission receive $4.6 million in funding once it is operational in the fall of 2020. But Benson also is asking the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to approve $2 million so her office can administer the process until then.

Benson said she is studying ways to ensure there is an enforcement mechanism to prevent ineligible people from getting on the panel, adding that "we always have the recourse of the courts as well." She also said she will emphasize the importance of getting applications from all areas of the state, from people who match the population's demographics.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group that organized the ballot drive to establish the redistricting commission, said it has already identified more than 1,500 voters who are interested in applying.

"Voters overwhelmingly supported a transparent, citizen-centered redistricting process and we are happy to see the Secretary of State's office is executing its administrative role in that spirit," she said.

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