Michigan’s redistricting commission first task: Draw state senate districts

Michigan’s redistricting commission first task: Draw state senate districts

August 9, 2021 | By: Sergio Martinez-Beltran | Lansing, MI | BRIDGE MICHIGAN – Michigan’s independent redistricting commission this week should have enough data to start drawing preliminary political boundaries. Job 1: The state’s Senate 38 districts.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week it will release detailed decennial population tallies Thursday, as well as demographic information that includes ages, race and ethnicity. 

“We’re excited, generally, that what we need is starting to come in, to really dig more into the process,” Brittni Kellom, the chair of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, told Bridge Michigan.

“We can’t really get started until we have the necessary things, so we’re just concentrating on learning the process, getting familiar with the software, asking questions and then kind of taking it as it comes.”

The mapmaking is one of the first significant public steps for the citizens’ group, which was created by voters in 2018 to take over redistricting from politicians. 

In the past, the political party in power in the Legislature was tasked with drawing the boundaries every 10 years after the release of Census data. This led to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, which benefited Republicans.

Members of the commission, which has a budget of about $3.1 million, have spent much of the past eight months on administrative issues, learning to use software to draw political maps and traveling the state to talk to voters.

The data coming this week is not without challenges. The so-called “legacy” data will not be tabulated, and the U.S. Census Bureau has warned commissions and legislatures about the difficulties this can bring to the process. The agency promised user-friendly tallies by Sept. 30. 

Still, Kimball Brace, the president of Virginia-based Election Data Services, Inc. who is working with the commission draw the maps, told Bridge Michigan his company will process the data as soon as its received 

“We’ve been telling all of our clients that basically it will take about five to seven days to do all the processing, but are creating supplemental information beforehand as soon as we get the data set,” Brace said.

Brace said the commission’s first task will be to start drawing state Senate districts because “it’s a little bit more manageable.” Each district represents 212,400 to 263,500 residents.

“You’re not not drawing an enormous number of districts (because) … we don’t have the information,” Brace said. “But it’s a way of at least, kind of looking at medium grounds in terms of the number of territories that we’re trying to create.”

The commission also must draw 110 state House districts and 13 congressional districts. (Michigan is losing one seat because of stagnant population.)

According to the state constitution, all of these maps need to be available for the public for feedback by Sept. 17 and adopted by Nov. 1.

The commission asked the Michigan Supreme Court to extend the deadlines because the commission will not receive the full population counts — rather than “legacy data” — from the Census Bureau until Sept. 30. 

But the court ruled the request was premature, since the commission had not missed the deadline. 

Nevertheless, the commission does not plan to adopt the maps until Dec. 31, citing earlier delays in the Census data. That’s drawn objections from Republicans, who say the group is constitutionally mandated to complete the task earlier.  

“I really hope that they’re not going to kind of sit back and drag their feet and miss the deadline of Nov.1,” said Tony Daunt, the executive director of FAIR Maps Michigan, a conservative redistricting advocacy group,

“The Supreme Court seemed to be pretty clear that they thought this commission could get their work done, and I hope that they take that charge seriously.”