LANSING, Mich. — The independent commission in charge of drawing new district maps for Michigan is starting to put pen to paper. This week the group began drawing preliminary maps, including one that could split Lansing and East Lansing into separate districts.
“Thank you for your beginning efforts on Friday I think we learned a lot in the process. I think we learned that the mapping process requires flexibility, we’ve got to do the best we can with the information that we have," said Sue Hammersmith the executive director of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission during a meeting on Monday.
For months the 13-member group has held public hearings, heard input from communities across the state and encouraged engagement. This week the group began drawing preliminary district lines.
One of those early maps, proposed by Commissioner Anthony Eid, would split up Lansing and East Lansing to group them with other mid-Michigan municipalities.
“There have been a few instances where certain commissioners have decided to make edits and done kind of some silly things, which don't make a lot of sense to me. For instance, a few days ago, there was an effort by one of the commissioners to separate Lansing and East Lansing and divide those up," said Anthony Daunt who serves as executive director of FAIR Maps, a group aiming to help create equal district maps in Michigan. " And I think that's kind of silly, you know, for all this talk about communities of interest.”
The new maps have to meet criteria creating continuous districts and drawing district lines to respect existing township and county lines.
“They are officially starting from scratch, that is, they are supposed to draw new districts based on new census numbers, and they're explicitly not supposed to take into account where current members of Congress or legislators live in drawing those districts," said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.
Changes to the district lines and losing a congressional seat could make for a very different political landscape in Michigan.
“It won’t be completely different but the map will be new. It’ll have one fewer U.S. House district and so that necessitates moving almost all of the lines somewhat," Grossmann said.
Michigan has seen some major population changes sine the last census in 2010. Metropolitan areas like Detroit and Flint have seen heavy population losses while areas on the west side of the state have grown and areas north of Lansing have remained relatively stagnant. The major changes and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic make for a heavy lift for the commission.
“The biggest concern thus far has just been the slow progress, and they’ve just started drawing maps over the last few days… the Constitution does still state that they need to have their work done by Nov. 1 and everything they’ve put forward to date basically shows that they’re going to blow past that deadline," Daunt said.
The commission asked the Michigan Supreme Court for more time to draw their maps earlier this summer but their request was denied.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission says the new maps are simply preliminary and the public still has time to comment as the new district lines are drawn.
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