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Redistricting commission releases private memos, tape of closed-door session

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The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission Monday night released a handful of documents under state Supreme Court order.

The Detroit News and other media organizations had sued following the commission’s refusal to release private memos and a recording associated with a closed-door session that took place on Oct. 27.

The memos covered topics like the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the impact historical discrimination in the state has on voting.

In that meeting, lawyers Bruce Adelson and Julianne Pastula repeatedly told commissioners that most of the information being presented to them about the VRA was false.

“This is a data law analysis election results-driven process. We have become concerned that there is so much misinformation out there we wanted to have the opportunity to set the record straight,” Adelson said.

Their most emphasized points for the commission centered around the idea that the VRA does not require the formation of so-called “majority-minority” districts as many critics have claimed.

To illustrate his point, Adelson brought up claims made in the AFL-CIO fair maps report about the number of required majority-minority districts.

“That’s part of what we’ve been concerned about. These documents are infused with either misinformation or a lack of information,” Adelson said.

The attorneys also brought up maps proposed by the group Promote the Vote and calls from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to redraw its proposed maps.

Promote the Vote redistricting campaign director Michael Davis Jr. responded to criticism from commissioner Szetela that his organization’s maps weren’t much different from the commission’s on certain metrics.

“When you look at the communities and the overall equity, the number of overall VRA districts that we were able to draw—that we were able to create, I think there’s a difference there,” Davis Jr. said.

During the Oct. 27th discussion, the legal team said the VRA dealt more with the ability of vulnerable communities to elect their candidates of choice. Pastula brought up that during Flint-based discussion, a main takeaway for her was the emphasis on community representation.

“What I was hearing wasn’t VRA advocacy. What I was hearing was community of interest advocacy founded on their lived experiences and their history,” Pastula said.

Pastula and Adelson emphasized that the commission’s analysis had shown that was possible without hitting a certain racial quotas in districts. They asked commissioners to refrain from using racial terms in their public discussions.

“Please don’t use phrases about adding Black people, subtracting Black people, adding white people, subtracting white people. We’re going in a little bit of a different direction,” Adelson told the commission before adding that “legally, race cannot predominate redistricting.”

Part of the commission’s argument for meeting in private in the first place was that it was specifically hearing legal advice rather than discussing map drawing.

At times, Pastula slowed debate when she felt the commission was getting too close to discussion that should occur in open meetings.

At one point, Commissioner Brittni Kellom warned against dismissing Detroiters’ community concerns just because analysis said the maps were okay.

“Because I see a bunch of nodding heads, I see us almost taking on the position of what politicians have done and say, ‘Oh, we did a good job and we’re not going to change it.’ And there are certain people there—we all know that ‘candidate of choice’ means electing candidates that look like them. Like let’s be clear,” Kellom said.

During a press conference Tuesday following the document’s release, commission chair Rebecca Szetela said the full group needs to decide if its proposed maps allow for communities to represent themselves, leaving the door open for considering alternate House maps.

“We had it on our agenda for our last meeting to discuss changing maps and we could decide to make some changes and start another 45-day period, or we could choose not to,” she said.

The commission is scheduled to vote on final versions of its state House…Senate…and Congressional district plans by the end of the year. Considering a map not already in this final pool would require another 45-day public comment period, pushing the commission considerably behind schedule.

Corrected: December 22, 2021 at 5:53 PM EST
Promote the Vote redistricting campaign director Michael Davis Jr. responded to criticism from MICRC chair Rebecca Szetela, not general counsel Julianne Pastula. This has been corrected.

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