Michigan civil rights chief says redistricting maps violate the Voting Rights Act

Pictured is a previously proposed redistricting map for 2022 election state House districts (Michigan AFL-CIO)

By Susan J. Demas, Michigan Advance

Add the Michigan Civil Rights Department director to the growing number of voices who say that the initial redistricting maps proposed by the state’s new independent panel violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John E. Johnson Jr. spoke Wednesday evening at the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC). The 13 member panel — four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents — earlier this month approved 10 maps that are now subject to public comment. The new lines will go into effect for the 2022 elections.

“This commission has an historic opportunity, and profound responsibility, to redraw Michigan’s electoral boundaries so that we preserve – as the Voting Rights Act says you must – the ability of the minority to have a voice in their government and in deciding who will represent their interests, from the local school board to the halls of Congress,” Johnson said. “The maps this body approved on Oct. 11 fail that test. They dilute minority-majority districts and strip the ability for a minority voter to elect legislative representatives who reflect their community and affect any meaningful opportunity to impact public policy and lawmaking.”

Johnson also submitted an analysis of the proposed maps that details how they violate the Voting Rights Act.

“Make no mistake: the decisions you make and the lines you draw will either protect the rights of minorities or ensure that for a decade to come, some Michigan voters will no longer have a voice in decisions that directly impact their lives. We urge you meet this test of fairness and accountability, and rectify the Voting Rights Act violations inherent in the maps under consideration,” he said.

Last week, state Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) said the 10 proposed maps fail include districts where the voting age population is more than 50% African-American. The current maps drawn by a GOP-majority Legislature in 2011 have 17 districts that are majority Black — two in Congress, five in the state Senate and 10 in the state House. Civil rights leaders also have rallied in Detroit for fair representation for African Americans.

And an analysis by Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) released this week flagged VRA issues with splitting up Black communities.

However, in a press conference this week, MICRC members defended that decision and contended the maps were still VRA compliant.

“We understand the fears and we definitely hear the concerns. Some of our commissioners have expressed the same fear. So we understand it,” MICRC Vice Chair M.C. Rothhorn, a Democrat, said Monday. “We hear the fears of the people and we’re going to address them and we’re going to do that with data.”

The Michigan Constitution requires that the panel adopt its final maps by Nov. 1., but a delay in census data earlier this year prompted the commission to push that deadline to Nov. 5. The commission is anticipating final maps to be approved by Dec. 30, but any revisions by the commission would restart the 45-day comment period for a map. The maps will go into effect 60 days after their publication, and be operable for the next 10 years.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]anadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.