The Michigan Redistribution Commission has asked for advice. There are plenty.
The group faces the loss of a seat in Congress due to low population growth. Among the challenges: Districts must align based on population (210,000-250,000 per State Senate district, approximately 700,000 per Congressional district) and consider staying intact ”communities of interestWhich share historical, economic or cultural similarities and concerns.
The commission is also expected to draw fair districts in a divided state: Michigan’s congressional delegation now numbers 7-7 among Democrats and Republicans, and the state is majority Republican in rural areas and majority Democratic in urban areas.
All in all, that means there are plenty of ideas about how the redistribution process should play out, as Bridge Michigan learned from attending multiple hearings this spring.
Here are some of the more interesting ideas:
Idea # 1: School districts as the basis of the maps
Laurence Kloss, a former member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education, argued that Michigan’s 891 school districts should not be divided during the redistribution.
Kloss said he lives in the Ann Arbor Public School District, but his community is “fractured” or divided and does not vote with the rest of the school district.
“I encourage you to use school districts as the building blocks for your maps,” Kloss said. “No school district should be divided.”
Michigan school districts often do not respect municipal boundaries (there are only three in the town of St. Clair Shores, Macomb County), and it is not uncommon for them to be divided between districts. of Congress.
Holland Public Schools in western Michigan, for example, sits on the border of Ottawa and Allegan counties – and 817 students live in Allegan while 2,165 live in Ottawa.
Ottawa is in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Representative Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland. Allegan County is part of the 6th Congressional District, represented by Representative Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.
School districts were also a concern of Charles Lang of Spring Arbor Township in Jackson County. He lives in Michigan’s 64th House district and is concerned that new districts may divide his school district, the Western School District in Jackson County.
“To keep us from the way we are represented by a District House really makes a lot of sense,” Lang said.
What the experts say:
School districts as building blocks are a “reasonable place to start, but there are potentially tradeoffs” as they can expand to other counties, said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Michigan State University Policy and Social Research.
He added that many people recognize school districts – rather than their municipality – as their place of residence. Okemos is an unincorporated community outside of Lansing, for example, but people who live in the Okemos Public School District may list “Okemos” as their postal service address.
“So school districts have become another local jurisdiction that people recognize, even though it’s not really a city or a government,” Grossmann said.
Idea # 2: Think beyond simple municipal lines
As with school districts, speakers encouraged the board to be creative when developing the maps and to use more than traditional municipal boundaries.
Among the ideas of the past few weeks has been to use parks or religious communities as groups to begin to reconstruct the boundaries of the neighborhood.
Ted Weiser of Ypsilanti Township told Commissioners about a recent camping trip to the Sugarloaf Lake Campground between Waterloo, which is in Jackson County, and Chelsea, which is in Washtenaw County.
“As far as I know, my wife Wanda may have slept in Jackson County last night, and I slept in Washtenaw County,” Weiser said.
While the two counties are part of Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, represented by Republican Rep. Tim Walberg, each county has different legislators in the House and state.
Likewise, religious communities flow beyond city borders – and Chris Murphy, pastor of Horton Congregational Church in Jackson County, said the commission should work to keep them together.
She said that five years ago her community created a joint operating agreement that includes two Methodist churches, a Baptist Free Will Church and a non-denominational church in the Hanover-Horton area.
“So because of the things we do together, I think we’re a like-minded bunch of people. And we all do this for one purpose: the purpose of Jesus Christ, ”Murphy told the commission at a hearing last month in Jackson.
What the experts say:
The idea may have some merit – but ultimately the commission has to rely on maps to draw the districts.
“I think a religious community is definitely a community of interest,” said John Chamberlin, professor emeritus of political science and public policy at the University of Michigan.
“The commission could decide, ‘Let’s look at school districts as pieces of the puzzle.’ They really cannot do it alone with religious communities.
LaBrant, who helped draw districts for Republicans, rejected the idea of considering congregations, calling it “offensive.”
“Are we going to gerrymander the neighborhoods around Catholics or Muslims?” LaBrant asked. “It’s a perversion of the community of interest. We don’t have that on the census, so that would be another subjective criterion.
Idea # 3: The urban / rural divide
One issue that residents have raised repeatedly is that new neighborhoods need to reflect the differences between urban and rural communities.
Some districts are now predominantly rural, such as the 1st Congress District, which encompasses the Upper Peninsula and 17 counties on the Lower Peninsula, including Grand Traverse, Manistee and Mason counties.
Others are predominantly urban or peripheral, such as the 13th Congressional District in Southeast Michigan which includes Inkster, Romulus, Westland, and much of Detroit.
But some districts are so large that they cover both rural and urban areas, leading to complaints about equity and fair representation.
Julie Hartshorn lives in an area of East Lansing that falls under the jurisdiction of Clinton County. This means that she is part of Michigan’s 4th Congressional District, represented by Representative John Moolenaar, R-Midland.
“My parents who retired to Higgins Lake (in County Roscommon) are literally one block from the same congressional district as me, from which they are almost two hours away,” Hartshorn said.
She said she wanted to be in a neighborhood that represents where she does the most of her shopping.
“My belief is that since I work, shop and play in Lansing or East Lansing, I should share the same congressional district,” Hartshorn said. “My problems may not be the same as those of someone who lives in, say, Big Rapids or Mount Pleasant.”
Lansing’s Eileeen Brooker told the committee that the new cards should ensure that votes in Greater Lansing are not diluted.
The area covers the counties of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham. However, each of these three counties is in a different Congressional District: Clinton is in the 4th, Eaton is in the 7th, while Ingham is in the 8th.
Brooker said those in Eaton County are placed in a predominantly rural district, “diluting their vote.”
“Gerrymandering must stop now,” Brooker said. “A fair district is what we demand now. “
What the experts say:
Compromises are going to have to be made, MSU’s Grossmann said.
“If you have similar people in the districts, that can be good in terms of representation,” Grossmann said. “But it can also, in certain circumstances, create partisan packaging that can make it more difficult for districts across the state as a whole to represent the partisanship of voters who vote.”
Ultimately, the commission will have to evaluate the proposed maps according to its own ranking criteria: districts must meet federal requirements such as population; be contiguous and compact; reflect diversity and communities of interest; do not give a disproportionate advantage to incumbents or political parties and respect county, city and township boundaries.
LaBrant, the GOP strategist, said the commission will need to make districts competitive if they are to meet the criteria of not providing a disproportionate advantage to political parties.
“If we want to create 50-50 districts (that is, districts roughly equal in Democrats and Republicans), what will those districts look like?” LaBrant asked, noting that this could result in oddly shaped neighborhoods that might not be representative of communities.
“Believe it or not, people who share the same political party, the same political thought, they tend to live in the same neighborhood frankly.”
Sandra Chen, political and legal researcher at the non-partisan association Princeton Chuck Project, declared in accordance with a a multitude of federal regulations guiding the process is the primary means of ensuring fairness.
“Part of assessing its fairness is to see if the process is a fair one, that is, listening to the public and hopefully these public hearings and taking into account the testimony,” said Chen.