LANSING, Mich. — Michigan's redistricting process is well underway and researchers at Michigan State say in a new report that the independent commission tasked with drawing the new maps has shown no sign of partisanship, but Republicans still have a slight upper hand and there's growing controversy around Black representation.
“Almost all of these maps are by traditional measures biased towards Republicans in that 50/50 statewide election, they would be more likely to give Republicans a majority of representatives," said Matt Grossmann, the director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at MSU. "And the reason is just because Democrats are more geographically concentrated in cities in Michigan than Republicans.”
Grossmann said there are "no areas as Republican as Detroit is Democratic, and, as a result, it is very difficult to draw districts that would favor democrats in terms of a statewide 50/50 election."
None of the preliminary maps, which are labeled with the names of trees found in Michigan, are majority Black.
“The controversy is basically there aren't any majority African-American districts in their House, Senate or U.S. House maps," Grossmann said. "There are a lot of districts that have around 40 percent African-American population. And so the issue is will African-Americans be able to elect their preferred candidates in those districts?”
Leaders in Michigan are concerned about this change because of the impact it could have on Black representation.
“I mean it’s crazy, you go from I think 17 primarily African American districts statewide where we have a state representative or state senator down to none," said the Reverend Horace Sheffield, a faith and civil rights leader in Detroit.
Sheffield said it's important to maintain districts that are majority-minority.
“I don't think that that they need to be completely segregated. But at the same time, I don't think we need to lose representation. I mean, our voice is vital. We have a significant population in southeast Michigan and in most of the major cities in Michigan, Saginaw, Pontiac, Flint, Lansing has a sizable African-American population," he said.
Edward Woods III, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission's communications and outreach director, argues that all of the proposed maps meet the criteria outlined in the Voting Rights Act and create more opportunities for minority communities to elect people to represent their interests.
“Once again we’re trying to follow the seven redistricting criteria so that we can prevent gerrymandering and also maximize the vote of minorities," Woods said. "When you pack minorities, you diminish their voice. When you unpack minorities in accordance with the Voting Rights Act, not only will they be able to elect their candidate of choice but they might have more opportunities as well.”
There is still time to comment on the new district maps. In Lansing the commisison will hold a public hearing on Thursday from noon to 8 p.m.
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