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Redistricting commission chooses new map to submit for court approval

Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission
Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission

Michigan’s redistricting commission approved a new state House district plan for court review Wednesday.

The court had previously struck down seven metro-Detroit House districts as racial gerrymanders, leading to the redraw of the region.

Critics argued the current map splits too much of majority-Black Detroit with its whiter suburbs, making it hard for Black communities to elect their candidates of choice.

Redistricting Commissioner Brittni Kellom said the proposed plan the commission adopted, named Motown Sound FC E1, was the best option to fix that.

“I think that the people that we heard from, including the folks that are online, represent the passion and the spirit of Detroit, the sentiment of Detroit, and what I heard collectively was a resounding voice for the Motown Sound map,” Kellom said during debate.

It took the 13-member commission two rounds of voting Wednesday to choose a map to submit to the court.

There were nine maps total that made it to consideration after the commission decided to abandon two of its options shortly before voting.

In the first round, nine of the commissioners chose the Motown Sound FC E1 as their top choice. But it fell one Republican vote short of the threshold required by the state constitution.

Commission Chair Cynthia Orton was among the Republicans who initially supported different maps, saying she preferred how the commission’s "Willow" plan handled areas around Lake St. Clair.

“I’m really sad that people were just scared of a lakeshore district just because they were afraid it would be too Republican, and it doesn’t show that in the numbers,” Orton said.

Orton switched her vote during the second round after receiving pressure from her fellow commissioners.

Partisan fairness analysis found the adopted plan gave Republicans a "lopsided margin advantage" of 5.5%, meaning Democratic-leaning seats had an average margin of victory that much higher than Republican-leaning seats. It also suggested Democrats could be expected to win about 54.5% of the seats in the state House, while winning about 52.9% of the popular vote.

The plan sent to the court would also change seven more districts than the court originally ruled on, making House Districts 1-14 different than they currently are.

Commissioners have said it's difficult to change only the districts struck down by the court without making revisions to nearby districts too.

“I think that is where we found (changes) could be characterized as reasonably necessary,” Commissioner Anthony Eid said.

It’s possible the commission’s proposal doesn’t get used. The court could pick an alternative plan drawn by a court-appointed expert instead.

The court has given itself until March 29 to make a final decision.

Between now and then, the plaintiffs will have a chance to share their concerns with the new plan, the commission can respond, and a separate court-appointed expert will write his own report on the proposal.

There’s also a chance the U.S. Supreme Court could step in and overturn the commission’s loss in lower court, in which case, the current maps would remain in place.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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