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Draft Maps Show Work Remains For MI's Redistricting Commission To Comply With Voting Rights Act

map of Michigan divided into a grid and then 13 differently-colored districts.
Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
The commission released this draft map of congressional districts after a session of September 16.

Facing issues like the delayed release of U.S. Census data, the commission plans to finish the maps by the end of the year.

Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is continuing its work redrawing the state’s political districts.

Lauren Gibbons is a reporter with MLive.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with her about the latest maps drafted by commission members.

Interview Highlights

On What The Commission Is Currently Working On

At this point, there's a draft state Senate map, and there's a draft congressional map. The congressional map, there's been a lot of talk about, because there's still quite a bit to be figured out in terms of compliance with the Voting Rights Act and ensuring that minority communities are getting adequately represented. There's also been some consternation about the partisan makeup of these districts. I think now that there's lines on the table, people are starting to look and see what the ramifications of those lines would be. So, that's kind of next step, and this week, they're going to, you know, start putting lines to a state House map.

On If The Currently Drafted Congressional Maps Lean Republican Or Democrat

I would imagine that those districts are going to change drastically based on the Voting Rights Act requirements, which they're not currently meeting with the way that the districts are drawn. So, it's a little hard to say, I think, you know, there's obviously been some speculation, and that will be a major conversation moving forward. But I think those early lines, we're just kind of waiting to see what they ultimately settle on as they hear from people about the nature of those lines.

On If The Commission Will See More Lawsuits For Missing Deadlines Set In The State Constitution

The commission has long said that's because of the extreme delays in census data caused by the pandemic. Typically, they would be getting this data in the spring, and they ended up getting it in mid-August. So this, you know, this has truncated the timeline significantly [and] put a lot more pressure on the commission that I think the folks who wrote the amendment thought there would be. The current plan is to finish them by the end of the year, although, of course, in the Constitution, the date that they're supposed to finish it by is November 1. So, I would imagine, once November 1 rolls around, there's probably going to be some challenges saying, "Where are these maps?"

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is continuing its work redrawing the state’s political maps.

Lauren Gibbons is a reporter with MLive. She's here now to bring us an update on the commission. Thank you for joining me.

Lauren Gibbons: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: The last time we checked in with a reporter covering redistricting, that was at the beginning of the month.

He said commission members were just getting started with the map-making process. What has been completed since then?

Gibbons: So, at this point, there's a draft state Senate map, and there's a draft congressional map. The congressional map, there's been a lot of talk about, because there's still quite a bit to be figured out in terms of compliance with the Voting Rights Act and ensuring that minority communities are getting adequately represented.

There's also been some consternation about the partisan makeup of these districts. I think now that there's lines on the table, people are starting to look and see what the ramifications of those lines would be.

So, that's kind of next step, and this week, they're going to, you know, start putting lines to a state House map, which is the final draft that they need to complete before people can start weighing in, in these public hearings.

Saliby: So, looking at these newly drawn state Senate districts, which seem to be the most complete, how different are they from what they looked like, in the past, when lawmakers drew them?

Gibbons: I think they're pretty substantially different. You'll notice around this stage, there's some, you know, they were trying to, you know, take some communities of interest into account that they heard from folks. But of course, both in the Senate and the congressional map, the biggest changes are in the Detroit area.

You're noticing parts of the city, at least in these initial drafts of the Senate districts are getting pulled into some of the surrounding metro areas, which is an interesting choice. I think there's like at least five or six districts that pull from pieces of Detroit.

So, that is one major change, but there's several districts around the state where you're seeing either incumbents that may consider or would likely consider running for reelection again, seeing like really big changes in their districts.

Saliby: You kind of mentioned this, but can we tell yet whether these congressional districts, I think that's what people are most interested in, whether they're lean more Republican or Democrat? Are they pretty equal?

Gibbons: I think it's so early in the process that it's hard to say at this point. I would imagine that those districts are going to change drastically based on the Voting Rights Act requirements, which they're not currently meeting with the way that the districts are drawn.

So, it's a little hard to say, I think, you know, there's obviously been some speculation, and that will be a major conversation moving forward.

But I think those early lines, we're just kind of waiting to see what they ultimately settle on as they hear from people about the nature of those lines.

Saliby: Does it seem like this is kind of going to be the biggest sticking point for members?

Because of course, you have Republicans, Democrats and then independent, non-affiliated voters that are part of the commission.

Does it seem like this is the place where things are mostly gonna, you know, butt heads?

Gibbons: So far, you know, we haven't seen a ton of partisan infighting. I think that there's obviously, you know, been some discussions that are more heated than others.

But I think that definitely, in terms of which maps will be the most difficult, I think the congressional districts are probably, you know, going to be among the most difficult, not to say that the legislative districts aren't as well. But people are really watching for these congressional districts because we're already losing one in Michigan.

So, there's already going to be one less person representing Michigan. So, I think that's really going to be an area where there's going to be a lot of public focus and a lot of pressure on the commission to get it right.

Saliby: The commission has blown the deadline set in the state constitution to finish the maps. And just last week, they survived their first legal challenge to this now extended timeline. Do you expect there to be more lawsuits on this?

Gibbons: I would not be surprised. There's clearly some issues in terms of the truncated timeline this year. The commission has long said that's because of the extreme delays in census data caused by the pandemic.

Typically, they would be getting this data in the spring, and they ended up getting it in mid-August. So this, you know, this has truncated the timeline significantly [and] put a lot more pressure on the commission that I think the folks who wrote the amendment thought there would be.

The current plan is to finish them by the end of the year, although, of course, in the Constitution, the date that they're supposed to finish it by is November 1. So, I would imagine, once November 1 rolls around, there's probably going to be some challenges saying, "Where are these maps?"

Saliby: Lauren Gibbons covers the redistricting commission for Mlive. Thank you for being here.

Gibbons: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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