State Rep. Beau LaFave introduced House Joint Resolution S to repeal Michigan’s Independent Redistricting Commission.
The commission has exclusive authority under the state constitution to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and U.S. Congress, every 10 years.
“It is time to stop accepting statements and pronouncements about how successful and wonderful the Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Committee (ICRC) and its work has been,” said LaFave, of Iron Mountain. “It is clear the ICRC has raised more questions about transparency and in map-drawing than it has resolved.”
HJR S is a constitutional amendment, meaning if passed by the Legislature, it would move before the voters as a ballot proposal. Redistricting in the future would be drafted by concurrent resolution, voted in the affirmative by a two-thirds majority of elected members in both the state House and Senate. Under the resolution, district lines must comply with current Apol standards – named after Michigan’s former director of elections Bernard Apol – requiring the preservation of county lines and achieving as few splits to city and township boundaries as possible when districts divide counties.
“The new commission was sold to citizens in 2018 as a transparent and accountable way to eliminate politics from redistricting,” LaFave said. “Whatever the resolution, it must adhere to that promise, which the commission has continuously shown it cannot do under the current format.”
While specific Voting Rights Act (VRA) issues are receiving the most attention in lawsuits, the broader issue at stake is the failure to employ common sense to protect communities and their ability to leverage representation in the Legislature and Congress, LaFave said. The new districts that cover communities like Ann Arbor and East Lansing, for instance, stretch so far they encompass rural and small-town territories, effectively causing portions of these bigger cities to drown the rural vote.
“The new 32nd Senate District on Michigan’s west side now drags across slivers of five counties that have nothing in common except a Lake Michigan shoreline,” LaFave said. “The new 17th Senate District includes three whole counties on the Michigan-Ohio border, and bits and piece of another four. The new 108th House District stretches from Marinette, Wisconsin to Sault St. Marie, Canada. The commission gerrymandered Dickinson County, the newest county in Michigan, slicing it in half. Now, in the new 110th House District, Iron Mountain is lumped together with Houghton, over 100 miles away. Meanwhile, Norway, just seven miles from Iron Mountain, is in the new 109th House District with Marquette. These are just a few examples of the hundreds of times the ICRC failed to remember the first and highest goal in the constitutional amendment: protecting communities of interest.”
Despite good intentions when voters approved the ICRC, partisan politics has played a role in their process, LaFave said.
“Under the amendment establishing the ICRC, some party leaders have the ability to remove applicants to keep people faking party affiliation from making the cut,” LaFave said. “In practice, however, some of these leaders used the opportunity to remove candidates from other areas of the state to favor their own interests. The Senate Minority Leader even removed the only eligible resident of the Upper Peninsula from the commission to replace them with someone more likeminded, thus injecting politics into a process that was deemed non-partisan from the beginning. In turn, 33% of Michigan’s landmass had zero representation within the commission. Combine this with the selected commissioners’ lack of understanding about the process, no experience with the duties of a legislator and the complexities of travelling through districts, and a sincere but naïve desire to satisfy thousands of competing opinions and the result is a set of maps that do not serve the public well.”
While the ICRC may not be the solution Michigan voters had hoped for, hope is not lost, LaFave said.
“I have worked on this specific issue for quite some time, studying the process, and getting a better grasp on what options we have to put the power back in the hands of the voters,” LaFave said. “The people of Michigan were promised transparency of process and compact, sensible lines that protected communities of interest and the benefits of the VRA for all voters. Instead, it took a lawsuit to the Michigan Supreme Court to force the commission’s transparency. The commission has even voted to increase their own salaries, while their spending has gone far and above beyond their initial budget. The politics that were promised to be eliminated were let in a back door, by the dismissal of applicants from undesirable areas of the state. The districts are far from compact or simple, and the commission continuously displays a lack of appreciation for the VRA, and decimated communities all over the state. We cannot pass this process, unamended, to another generation of Michigan voters. Michigan needs HJR S.”
HJR S was referred to the House Committee on Elections and Ethics for further consideration.
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