By Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) on Monday kicked off a series of community meetings in Detroit with dismal in-person attendance.
A lawsuit was filed in March 2022 by a group of Black metro Detroit voters. After federal judges ruled that the commission illegally used race in their mapping of multiple electoral districts, the body was ordered to revamp 13 state House and Senate districts in Southeast Michigan.
The MICRC must meet a Feb. 2 deadline ordered by the judges to redraw the House districts. New Senate districts must be in place by 2026.
During a morning and evening session held at Huntington Place in downtown Detroit, the audience was sparse, although participants were given the ability to connect with the commission virtually. Only five people attended the evening session. Those who provided testimony were strident in the position that proposed state Legislative district maps must better offer the opportunity for people of color to be elected to the state House and Senate.
Norman Clement, an African-American nonprofit activist attending the event session, told the commission that he wanted to see boundaries that were “fair” to all Michiganders.
The MICRC was created by a 2018 constitutional amendment passed by voters. The 13-member body has four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents and drew the maps used for the first time during the 2022 election. Previously, the Legislature would design new districts every 10 years and the governor would sign off.
The meeting site selection drew criticism from one of the plaintiffs in the suit.
“The MICRC has missed a great opportunity to receive input from residents,” said Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Black Democratic former state House member. “Their location of choice shows just how out of touch they are. Many Detroit citizens lack transportation and don’t have money for parking. Wayne County Community College District East and westside campus or local churches would have proven to be more accessible venues.”
More than 300 chairs were set up at Huntington Place, the downtown Detroit convention center site. Parking ranged from $10 to $20 at area sites on Monday evening. The commission took testimony both in-person and virtually as comments spoke to specific boundaries, at times.
During the earlier session, Virginia Williams, who is African American and from Detroit, criticized the site and time of the meeting and argued that the “Black vote is being watered down.”
“Just because the room isn’t full,” Williams said to the commissioners present, “[but] there are a lot of people watching.”
Williams urged the commission to contact churches and community groups to increase meeting attendance.
Edward Woods, MICRC executive director, pointed out that previous meetings at Huntington Place during the panel’s first run at drawing new maps yielded stronger attendance.
“For our in-person public meetings in Detroit this week, we needed a convenient place to hear from Michigan citizens regarding the reconfiguration of the seven Michigan House of Representatives districts,” Woods told the Advance. “We had great attendance at this facility. We came here twice in 2021. …So, maybe the low attendance reflects a lack of interest or not coming out because of the weather. Some could have elected to submit their comments through one of the portals or provide written comments versus attending the meeting.”
On Monday ahead of the set of hearings, activists urged local residents to participate in the process during a press event at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit.
“We cannot rely on an embattled and inept entity such as the [MICRC] which was misguided from the onset to ignore the citizens of Detroit during countless hearings, to now get this right,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “There should be nothing about us, without us. We are calling for a special master to work with a body of Detroit stakeholders, our plaintiffs, and attorneys to draw fair. balanced, and constitutionally sound districts.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied MICRC’s request for a stay, pending appeal, in the Agee v. Benson case challenging the legislative maps drawn by the Commission and implemented in the 2022 statewide elections.
“All Michigan citizens deserve a government that works for them and reflects our state’s vibrant diverse communities and perspectives,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. “As the state’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission gets to work redrawing legislative districts in Southeast Michigan, I hope all citizens will actively participate and provide their input throughout the Commission’s upcoming open meetings.
“I fully expect the commission will listen closely to citizen input and incorporate it into the newly independently drawn districts. My commitment to maintaining fair and secure elections remains steadfast, and I look forward to working with our clerks in the months ahead to ensure everyone is ready and prepared to administer safe and accessible elections this year.”
MICRC public hearing schedule
- Tuesday, Jan. 23 — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Huntington Place, Ballroom A 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit 48226
- Wednesday, Jan. 24 — 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cadillac Place, Room L150 3044 West Grand Blvd., Detroit 48202
- Thursday, Jan. 25 — 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cadillac Place, Room L150 3044 West Grand Blvd., Detroit 48202
- Friday, Jan. 26 — 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Cadillac Place, Room L150 3044 West Grand Blvd., Detroit 48202
- Monday, Jan. 29 — Thursday, Feb. 1 Details are available at Michigan.gov/MICRC under the “Meeting Notices and Materials” section.