Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Redistricting in Michigan

Written by Kathy Gapa

Every ten years when the Census is complete, federal law requires that state and local governing bodies begin the process of redistricting if there have been significant shifts in population since the last census due to deaths, births, and migrations. The Census Bureau has an April 1 deadline for sending data to the states and then on to local levels. Once the data is received, each governing body will begin its work of recreating districting plans, which must be complete in time for the next election.

The LWVUS promotes four essential principles to assure representative government:

1. An accurate and complete count in Census 2010, and all future censuses, is an building block for all redistricting effort;

2. The process used for redistricting must be transparent to the public;

3. The redistricting process, at all levels of government, must provide data, tools and opportunities for the public to have direct public input into specific plans under consideration by the redistricting body;

4. In order to achieve representative democracy, redistricting plans must be drawn in a manner that allows elected bodies to reflect the diversity of the populace, especially racial and ethnic diversity.

In Michigan, the state legislature will draw lines for US Congressional Districts and the State Legislature. In Wayne County, an Apportionment Commission will be appointed; they have sixty days to come with a districting plan and to decide how many districts there will be. Once the plan is complete, it must then be presented for public comment. Facts that will influence Michigan’s districts

What are the guidelines for drawing districts? 1. All districts are to be single-member districts and should have as close to equal population as possible. 2. All district lines must be contiguous. 3. All districts must be compact and nearly square in shape as is practical, depending on the geography of the county area involved. 4. No township or part of a township can be combined with any city or part of a city to create a single district, unless necessary to meet the population standard.5. Townships, villages, and cities can be divided only, if necessary to meet the population standard. 6. Precincts can only be divided if necessary to meet the population standard. 7. Residents of state institutions who are ineligible to vote, such as prison inmates, must be excluded from representation. 8. Districts cannot be drawn to result in partisan representation.

One principle of a democratic government is one man, one vote. The Voter’s Rights Act prohibits states from imposing any “voting qualifications or prerequisites to voting, or standard practice or procedure to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the US to vote on account of race or color. This Act was passed in 1965-it was sent to Congress by President Johnson.

Why does it matter? From a pamphlet written by the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative they state “Today in Michigan, the districts are drawn by elected officials, whose interests are different than the interests of voters as a whole. The districts are often drawn to provide an advantage to the political party in control of the process. This issue isn’t a Republican or Democratic matter-both parties do it equally when they have the opportunity. This means voters’ voices are often limited. After reviewing election results from 2000 to 2010, the Center for Michigan reported that ‘Only about one in seven Michigan residents live in what could be deemed a consistently competitive swing district. In the Michigan House, only 25 of 110 districts changed party control over the past decade; in the Senate only 6 of 38.’ In 2006, only 45 percent of Michigan voters supported Republican candidates for the state Senate. Yet due to skillful map drawing, Republicans won 55 percent of the seats in the Senate, and were able to control the body. Similar actions in Wayne County, for instance, result in Democrats winning 14 of 15 seats-94 percent- despite taking 72 percent of the vote. Many districts are drawn with a goal of helping elect one partisan politician, or at least to benefit one party or the other. The process of redistricting is typically heavily influenced by lobbyists and PACs and other partiese with vested interests. This is not good for democracy, in which voters-not partisan leaders or lobbyists-are supposed to be in charge!”

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