The University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy hosted an event on Wednesday evening on the state’s current redistribution process. The event also looked at how communities of interest – groups of people with common interests and similar geographic locations – can promote their well-being throughout the process.
The redistribution process takes place every 10 years to create new legislative limits. This round of redistribution is the first time Michigan will use the new process adopted in 2018 with an approval rating of 61.27%, which emphasizes community participation and communities of interest. In the past, Michigan was considered home to some of the nation’s most gerrymander districts, which is part of the reason why the ballot initiative was so successful.
The new redistribution process is led by 13 citizens selected at random from over 9,000 applicants. That group, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, is tasked with holding at least 10 public hearings, allowing the Michiganders to voice their opinions on the redistricting process and to draw the final maps of the district.
MICRC Executive Director Sue Hammersmith said the new process values citizen voices and community thinking.
“Openness and transparency, along with public engagement, are the principles of this new redistribution process,” Hammersmith said. “Now (citizens) have the opportunity to ensure that (their) voice and the voice of the community are heard instead of politicians choosing their districts to best represent their interests. ”
Hammersmith also said the group will reference the criteria voted in the 2018 amendment to Michigan’s redistribution process, which is included in legislation from most important to least important.
First, districts must be of equal population and in accordance with the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits any form of discrimination in the electoral process or redistribution. Districts should also be geographically contiguous, reasonably compact, and take into account county, city and township boundaries.
Districts should also reflect the diversity of the state, as well as communities of interest, in a fair and equitable manner. Finally, constituencies must not favor or oppose any particular political party or current elected representatives.
Moon Duchin, a mathematician in charge of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group Redistricting Lab, announced the development of a technology that allows community members to voice their concerns about redistricting and turn those concerns into a visual map that they can submit to the committee.
Duchin said the group is excited to implement the technology, which aims to facilitate the expression of concerns in redistribution committees. Historically, Duchin said it was difficult to translate community ideas into district line suggestions.
“We’ve tried to create a really user-friendly mechanism to take what you have to say about where you live and what makes it special, (what) common interests (are), (what) drives this community.” , said Duchin. “We wanted people to be able to tie this through a map to make it the kind of data you can view while drawing boundaries. ”
Duchin said making technology accessible to underrepresented communities is essential to achieving equitable representation.
“(The MGGG Redistricting Lab has) training materials. There are videos not only in English and Spanish, but also in other (languages, such as) Haitian, Creole and Navajo, ”Duchin said. “And so, a big part of making a tool accessible is taking the time to work with people and show them how to take their ideas and turn them into maps. (This) was a huge turning point in the types of submissions we saw on the (submission) portal.
Hammersmith said revising the maps citizens submitted on Friday would allow them to dig deeper into the public’s comments and determine whether the districts on each map are representative of those included.
“It will be very interesting and difficult for the commission to gather this information and then determine if it needs to adjust the lines that have been drafted,” Hammersmith said. “Even when they go out on the road for public hearings, these are draft maps on offer. They will continue to collect comments from the public. They will continue to map until they get to the point where they come up with plans. “
Hayg Oshagan, professor at Wayne State University, stressed the importance of community efforts to include all voices in the redistribution process.
“People really have to come together, figure out what our community of interest is; leadership needs to be trained, ”Oshagan said. “You have to understand things. ”
Hammersmith closed the event by declaring his confidence in the redistribution committee to respect community views and the concerns of under-represented groups in Michigan.
“That’s exactly what (the redistribution committee) is doing,” Hammersmith said. “They take communities of interest into consideration, they know the criteria listed in the Constitution and they use those criteria in a non-partisan way. I am happy with the way they work together to write the cards. It’s a great group of people who are really engaged in the process and determined to get the job done.
Daily reporter Shannon Stocking can be reached at [email protected]