By Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) Friday approved nine proposed maps — three each for the state House, state Senate and congressional districts — but have opened the door for potentially introducing new maps proposed by individual commissioners down the road.
The question now is if that’s allowed by the Michigan Constitution, and if it is, would those maps be held to the 45-day comment period standard?
This is the first time that the independent panel is drawing new district lines since voters approved a 2018 constitutional amendment. Prior to that, the Legislature was in charge of redistricting with the governor signing off. The lines will go into effect for the 2022 elections and be in place for 10 years.
But so far, the process has been far from smooth, with commissioners clashing and concerns about transparency. There also have been critiques that many proposed maps lean Republican, may violate the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and discount representation for people of color, particularly African Americans.
The commission wrapped up deliberations Friday afternoon, which now begins the 45-day comment period required in the Constitution before final maps are expected to be approved by the end of December.
However, in order to approve the final state House, state Senate and congressional maps, two Democrats, two Republicans and two independents on the 13-member panel need to vote in support.
So what happens if none of the commission’s current collaborative maps can get that approval?
Some on the commission believe that individual commissioners can submit maps of their own. However, attorney Steve Liedel, who served as legal counsel to Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, said it might be too late in the process for that.
“There’s no authority at this point for individual commissioners to submit a plan. There’s a process after the initial 10 public hearings and before the five public hearings on proposed plans where commissioners can submit one plan each for each of the three maps. That’s already occurred,” Leidel said.
“I think the question is can individual commissioners submit maps now without action by the full commission to approve the submission of those maps? My reading is no,” Leidel said.
The commission’s general counsel, Julianne Pastula, said the MICRC would be potentially adding language to the Constitution.
On Friday, the commission passed a motion to revisit Monday the discussion of individual commissioners submitting maps at this point in the process. It’s unclear whether that discussion with outside litigation counsel will happen during an open or closed session.
Last week, the MICRC faced some backlash after hosting a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Sens. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) asked Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal legal opinion on the constitutionality of the closed session.
MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods said the commission “will have it all worked out Monday after they debate and hear the second legal opinion.”
Woods said he is not aware if there will be a closed session on Monday.
Liedel argues that if the commission cannot agree to the nine approved plans, it creates an opportunity to adopt maps that are not compliant with the standards set in the Constitution.
“I think the ambiguity is whether or not the requirements for a 45-day comment period and the requirement for the districts to comply with subsection 13 criteria for plans — the VRA, communities of interest, diversity of the state, political fairness, etc.,” Liedel said. “If your interpretation is that the 45 day comment period does not apply, then you open the door to plans that are not compliant with the criteria that would seem to be inconsistent with the intent of the commission. That’s why it’s ambiguous.”
This could also leave room for partisan and gerrymandered maps to make it to the final approval process.
“It creates the possibility of an individual commissioner submitting partisan gerrymandered maps, and either having it selected through the ranked choice process or selected randomly by the secretary of state [Jocelyn Benson]. One of the interpretations leads to that potential result,” said Liedel.
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] Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.