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Member of state's redistricting commission thanks public for input as maps are finalized

Map of Michigan, there is an overlay of districts in different colors with numbers identifying each. There are also green, red and yellow dots clustered across the map denoting public comments.
Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
The "Apple V2" map is one of the congressional district configurations commissioners are considering before a final vote at the end of the year.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is finalizing a series of political maps this week that define new boundaries for the state’s House, Senate and congressional districts.

Then, the commission will move into a final 45-day public comment period before members take one last vote at the end of the year to finish the redistricting process.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with M.C. Rothhorn, a Lansing Democrat on the commission about how they incorporated public comment and how members are planning to handle any lawsuits.

Interview Highlights

On dealing with the stress of the redistricting process

So, what I know is, right, we got better maps, and it's because it's been open, and it's been a public process. So, I suppose taking some comfort in that we know that this is something that has been a, yeah, the great experiment, right? This wonderful, political, excuse me, this wonderful public process.

On what the commission is doing to prepare for any lawsuits

We have, you know, other lawyers, voting rights attorneys, right, who have helped us so we have a lot of attorneys that have sort of advised us up to this point. So, we're prepared, I suppose, and we'll, on November 18, we're going to meet again. We'll be meeting in Ann Arbor, and I suppose that's when, we, as a commission will ultimately learn and answer some of the questions that you're asking me right now because I honestly, I think we're prepared, but I honestly don't know how it's going to all unfold.

On what he would say to Michiganders about redistricting

I suppose if you were part of the process, thank you, right? Because you helped us understand, right? You were helping us with these hard decisions, and that's what I would say is thank you. And if you weren't able to participate, you know, please continue, right? We want participation. That's part of what we are required to do is it's an open process to make it transparent and ultimately get to fair. So, it's the best we can do with what we've got and the time limit that we have.

Interview Transcript

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

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is finalizing a series of political maps this week that define new boundaries for the state’s House, Senate and congressional districts.

Then, the commission is moving into a final 45-day public comment period before members take one last vote at the end of the year to finish the redistricting process.

M.C. Rothhorn is a Lansing Democrat on the commission. He joins me now.

M.C. Rothhorn: Thank you for having me.

Saliby: How did the commission incorporate public comment from earlier sessions into these, you know, final, about a dozen, maps?

Rothhorn: The constitution has these seven criteria, and because they're ranked order, what we've done is, you know, use the ranked criteria. And every day that we were drawing maps, we were reading the public comments in the portal or we were using our notes from the first round of public hearings. And most recently, we had that second round of public hearings.

We rely on the public to help us know where the best places are to draw the lines that will divide and make those districts.

So as we've been drafting these maps, every day, we've been taking that public comment into consideration because, like many people have pointed out like we were not from the whole, we don't know the state, right? We don't know a lot of things. And so, we rely on the public to help us know where the best places are to draw the lines that will divide and make those districts.

Saliby: One big point of concern was there being enough majority-minority districts, especially around Detroit. How did you address those critiques?

Rothhorn: We got a lot of critique. We got a lot in Flint as well. And so, gosh, over the last 10 days, during our deliberations we, yeah, we made some significant changes and tried to make those with the people's comments [and] the public's comments in mind.

Saliby: And then one thing that you and commission members settled yesterday was the decision to allow individual commissioners to submit their own maps. So, in addition to these collaborative maps that you have been working on, there's now these individual maps as well.

How do those play into this whole process? And how did you get to that decision to allow that? Because it feels like there's a ton of options already.

Rothhorn: The individual commissioner maps are really something that is constitutionally, I guess, it's noted. So, we are just trying to understand when we want to limit ourselves and how we will ultimately allow the public to also see the individual commissioner maps and be able to give comment, not to mention individual commissioners.

You know, so when I submit a map, I want my other fellow commissioners to see it. So that's what we were talking about, and that's the process that we finalized and ultimately submitted our maps on Monday.

Saliby: I think one of the last times we talked you mentioned how, you know, everything was kind of moving as smoothly as it could getting through this process.

You know, tensions have been high in the past couple of weeks. There's a lot of pressure on you guys. How have you kind of dealt with that stress and pressure and responded to you know, everybody from every side saying, "You did this wrong, or you did this right?"

Rothhorn: I take a lot of comfort in experts who when we were first being oriented in August of last year, they said that because of this open meetings and the transparency that's going to be part of this process, we, as the 13 commissioners, they basically said during our orientation, "You will draw better maps."

I suppose taking some comfort in that we know that this is something that has been a, yeah, the great experiment, right?

So what I know is, right, we got better maps, and it's because it's been open, and it's been a public process. So, I suppose taking some comfort in that we know that this is something that has been a, yeah, the great experiment, right? This wonderful, political, excuse me, this wonderful public process.

Saliby: Obviously, you guys will take your final vote at the end of the year. Most of the process will be over, but there is the potential for lawsuits or people saying you didn't do your job well enough.

What is the plan from there, after you take this final vote and potentially encounter people who who sue saying the commission needs to go again or do something else?

Rothhorn: I think many of us have the same question. What is the plan? I mean, we have litigation counsel. We have a general counsel who will be advising and sort of coordinating the litigation council members.

We have, you know, other lawyers, voting rights attorneys, right, who have helped us so we have a lot of attorneys that have sort of advised us up to this point.

So, we're prepared, I suppose, and we'll, on November 18, we're going to meet again. We'll be meeting in Ann Arbor, and I suppose that's when, we, as a commission will ultimately learn and answer some of the questions that you're asking me right now because I honestly, I think we're prepared, but I honestly don't know how it's going to all unfold.

Saliby: There's no way to make every Michigander happy with every single one of these maps. What would you say to people who don't like these final choices?

It's the best we can do with what we've got and the time limit that we have.

Rothhorn: I suppose if you were part of the process, thank you, right? Because you helped us understand, right? You were helping us with these hard decisions, and that's what I would say is thank you.

And if you weren't able to participate, you know, please continue, right? We want participation. That's part of what we are required to do is it's an open process to make it transparent and ultimately get to fair. So, it's the best we can do with what we've got and the time limit that we have.

Saliby: M.C. Rothhorn is a Lansing Democrat on the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Thank you for joining me.

Rothhorn: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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