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Redistricting Commission takes first stab at redraw

Metro Detroit State House Districts
Metro Detroit State House Districts

Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission started out focusing on just the affected metro-Detroit districts

The first crack at redrawing seven Michigan state House districts in metro Detroit that were struck down by a recent federal court ruling got under way Tuesday.

The court ruled the districts violated the U.S. Constitution because they were drawn predominantly based on race.

During its meeting Tuesday, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission started out focusing on just the affected metro-Detroit districts.

“I’d like to see if it’s possible, see what we can come up with without changing the districts that were deemed not to be illegal,” Commissioner Anthony Eid said when it was his turn to edit the map.

The court ordered the commission to redraw House Districts 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14.

But, at times, draft work expanded into districts that the court decision hadn’t touched.

Among them, were the current House Districts 2, 3, and 4, which encompass Dearborn and communities downriver from Detroit like Lincoln Park.

“We are going to have to adjust boundaries throughout the entire metro Detroit area. That’s just the reality and the court specifically contemplated that,” Commissioner Rebecca Szetela said when questioned about her focus on District 2 during her turn.

The court order gave the commission leeway to shift boundaries for “any other districts as reasonably necessary to cure the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”

But Nate Fink, an attorney with the commission, cautioned against making too many extra changes.

“The commission needs to provide and should be providing the rationale as to why it would be reasonably necessary to make modifications to maps—to districts that were not struck down by the court,” Fink said.

Tuesday’s commission meeting ended around an hour and a half earlier than planned because of issues with the mapping software’s population estimates. The commission must have a proposal ready for public comment, however, by February 2.

Still, there's a chance the new map drafts will be discarded before they're ever used. That's because the commission is continuing to appeal the court ruling that ordered it to draw new districts to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But, while the group complies with the lower-court decision for now, some policy researchers are framing it as an opportunity.

Matt Grossman directs the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. He referred to complaints the commission had received about current House maps splitting Detroit into districts shared with its northern suburbs.

“[T]he major criticism of the maps and the process was that they didn’t listen to Detroit residents’ complaints, and they drew these districts, these 8 Mile-crossing districts that didn’t comport with preferences that they heard,” Grossman said.

Grossman's institute highlighted its own maps Tuesday as proof the redraw could find success. It’s also reviewed a handful of others.

Currently, each of the affected districts are represented by Democrats.

Grossman said the House's partisan makeup should remain relatively stable, even if the districts are redrawn.

“To put it more bluntly ... I think we’re going to be able to show that, if you’re trying very hard, you can maybe make one Republican district most of the time in this map. But these are going to remain overwhelmingly Democratic districts regardless of how they’re drawn,” Grossman said.

The commission is scheduled to start drawing again Wednesday morning.

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