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State's redistricting commission set to finalize maps by the end of the year

logo for commission that depicts an outline of the state, a pen and "Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission" in front of a sunset on a lake
Courtesy
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Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
13 people serve on the commission representing Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters.

Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is getting close to finalizing new political maps for the state’s House, Senate and congressional districts.

Commission members have approved a series of maps and will soon hold its last public comment period before a final vote scheduled for the end of the year.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Clara Hendrickson who covers the commission for the Detroit Free Press about the latest on the redistricting process.

Interview Highlights

On some of the changes commissioners made to maps after the last public comment period

Some of the maps have just sort of small tweaks, particularly the congressional maps, just a couple of tweaks here and there from what they drafted earlier. But then [there were] some major changes in the legislative districts. We saw the addition of plurality Black and majority Black districts in Detroit and Flint where the commission had previously eliminated them.

On the commission allowing individual members to submit their own maps

The commission basically got the green light from their litigation counsel, that rules that they adopted for the individual procedures for commissioners to put forward their own maps were okay. And they decided that they're going to confine any individual maps that might be considered to only those that have been vetted by the public under a 45-day public comment period.

On the tension on the commission as it nears the end of the redistricting process

I think it's just been stressful for them to go from traveling the entire state, listening to hours of public testimony and then just trying to figure out, how are we going to incorporate all of this into the drafts. And at the end of the day, you know, there were some tense moments the past week when they were deliberating.

Interview Transcript

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

Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is getting close to finalizing new political maps for the state’s House, Senate and congressional districts.

Commission members have approved a series of maps and will soon hold its last public comment period before a final vote scheduled for the end of the year.

Clara Hendrickson covers the commission for the Detroit Free Press, and she’s here with me now. Thank you for joining me.

Clara Hendrickson: Thanks so much for having me.

Saliby: The commission finalized these maps after an earlier round of public comment. What changed between then and now?

Hendrickson: So, they took draft maps on the road with them for a statewide public hearing tour, and they received hours and hours of public testimony asking for changes to the maps. And they spent marathon meetings this past week making adjustments based on that feedback.

And some of the maps have just, sort of, small tweaks, particularly the congressional maps. Just a couple of tweaks here and there from what they drafted earlier.

But then [there were] some major changes in the legislative districts. We saw the addition of plurality Black and majority Black districts in Detroit and Flint where the commission had previously eliminated them.

We saw different configurations of Ann Arbor, which was previously kept intact in the draft maps and splitting up that city tended to drive down some of those partisan fairness scores that people were worried about, bringing those a little bit closer to zero and just some greater political balance in the statewide maps.

Saliby: There was a legal discussion yesterday on whether maps put forth by individual commissioners, as opposed to collaborative efforts, would be eligible to be put forward for public comment. How did that all shake out?

Hendrickson: So, the commission basically got the green light from their litigation counsel, that rules that they adopted for the individual procedures for commissioners to put forward their own maps were okay. And they decided that they're going to confine any individual maps that might be considered to only those that have been vetted by the public under a 45-day public comment period.

And those maps don't really come into the equation, unless the commission cannot get a majority vote on one of its own maps that it spent months working on collaboratively.

I think commissioners have told me that they really hope that it doesn't get to the scenario of considering individual commissioner maps just because they think having a product that they've worked on together will be good for the process.

And I think commissioners have told me that they really hope that it doesn't get to the scenario of considering individual commissioner maps just because they think having a product that they've worked on together will be good for the process and help instill trust in this new redistricting procedure that we have here in Michigan.

Saliby: So, how did the commission handle earlier criticism that there weren't enough majority-minority districts, especially around places like Detroit [and] Flint?

Hendrickson: A little bit of this discussion is unknown, in part, because on the first day of deliberations, the commission held a closed door session to get legal advice from their voting rights attorney on the VRA (Voting Rights Act) and the history of racial discrimination in Michigan.

Those were subjects that were discussed a legal memo that is confidential, and so in some ways there are parts of this discussion that are a little bit unclear and how the commission decided to weigh concerns about the Voting Rights Act in the new drafts.

But they did take into consideration feedback they heard from communities, particularly in Flint and Detroit, that being kept together intact in the districts would help increase and improve their representation and in Lansing. And so, the commission sort of took that feedback, and the result was now several of the state House maps have majority Black districts where there were none before.

I've spoken to Black Detroit lawmakers who are saying that this is sort of a step in the right direction, the commission could have maybe done a little bit more.

And I've spoken to Black Detroit lawmakers who are saying that this is sort of a step in the right direction, the commission could have maybe done a little bit more and, you know, the product that they have now is better than what they'd put on the table before, which was zero majority Black districts.

Saliby: As we get closer to these final deadlines, it seems like there's a lot more tension between commission members, as you know, this pressure mounts. Can you speak on some of those disagreements that have kind of come up?

Hendrickson: I think it's just been stressful for them to go from traveling the entire state, listening to hours of public testimony and then just trying to figure out, how are we going to incorporate all of this into the drafts. And at the end of the day, you know, there were some tense moments the past week when they were deliberating.

There was a moment when Brittni Kellom, a Democratic commissioner from Detroit, early in the process broke down in tears as she was sort of trying to make the case for wholesale changes in Detroit based on public comment, and her efforts were rebuffed initially, but the group ended up taking into consideration her suggestions and approving a map that had lines that she had worked on redrawing.

So, [it's been] a tough week but I think I've spoken to commissioners they feel good about the collective effort that they all put into working toward a final product together.

So, [it's been] a tough week but I think I've spoken to commissioners they feel good about the collective effort that they all put into working toward a final product together.

Saliby: Should we expect any lawsuits from groups saying the commission didn't do their job well enough when it comes to maybe voting rights or having things done on time?

Hendrickson: So, the commission has hired a ton of lawyers. They have their own general counsel. They have a litigation counsel team that they've brought on and some other folks to help out. And so, they are certainly expecting legal challenges. That's sort of, you know, a normal part of the redistricting process, and I'm not entirely sure what the allegations will be.

So, we'll see. I'm sure we'll have plenty of lawsuits that end up in the Michigan Supreme Court and the federal courts. [It's] all very much to be determined.

Saliby: Clara Hendrickson is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Thank you for joining me.

Hendrickson: Thank you so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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