By Connie Cook | November 8, 2021
The 6,000 VNP volunteers who helped pass Prop 2 in 2018 have a lot to be proud of. By ending partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, Prop 2 is guaranteeing that our district maps will preserve more communities and have more partisan balance than they would have had if constructed solely by the majority party in the state legislature.
Equally significant, the new constitutional amendment has brought thousands of ordinary citizens into the democratic process. Since May, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) has been traveling around the state, holding meetings in 19 cities and doing outreach in town halls, coffee houses, and college campuses. The Commission has made it easy for citizens to speak either in person or virtually at these meetings, and they have created an online portal where people learn to draw and submit maps of their communities and voting districts, and comment on the Commission’s work.
Now that the second round of public hearings has come to a close, between 10,000-15,000 Michiganders have already provided comments and maps to the MICRC. By comparison, in California a decade ago, the number of submissions was 22,000 in a state four times the size of Michigan. Michigan’s 2021 level of participation is setting new records for citizen involvement!
Has the process been perfect? No. We are inventing the wheel this year – an historic first – and there have been hiccups along the way. Everyone involved in the process can cite things they would like a Commission to do differently in future decades, and that no doubt is true for the 13 Commissioners as well as for the rest of us. For example, most recently, the Commission held a closed session as part of its otherwise open meeting to discuss a confidential letter from the Commission’s Voting Rights attorney. That decision was criticized by both Democratic and Republicans around the state. As Nancy Wang said: “The amendment provides, ‘The commission shall conduct all of its business at open meetings.’ The intent was to bring redistricting out into the open through a fair, impartial, and transparent process. Redistricting business includes deliberating issues arising under the Voting Rights Act.”
Nonetheless, the overwhelming impression one gets from observing the redistricting process in Michigan is that, thus far, it has gone remarkably well. Most amazing is the absence of partisan bickering and party line votes by the Commissioners, unlike the political process we see in Lansing and Washington DC.
What happens next?
On November 5, the Commission voted to provide nine collaborative maps for public comments: three for the U.S. Congressional districts, three for the Michigan Senate districts, and three for the Michigan House districts. Then, on November 8, the Commissioners added six other individually-designed maps for public comments.
Now that the Commission has voted on maps, there will be a week during which the staff will write a report summarizing the reasons for drawing the maps as they did. Then, from November 14-December 30, there will be the 45-day period when the Commission will meet infrequently and the public can comment on the maps either at their meetings or on the portal. The Commission will take a final vote on the three official maps on December 30th unless they decide to alter the maps during the 45-day period, causing the 45 days to start over.
The maps the MICRC selects will become the official districts for the US House of Representatives and the Michigan House and Michigan Senate. Since the 2022 campaign season is almost upon us, candidates need to know where their districts will be. We all hope the Commission will have finished its work by December 30.
What role has VNP played in this process?
VNP has played a vital role in fostering the success of the redistricting process. We have accomplished the following:
- After Michigan’s 2018 vote to create the MICRC, VNP volunteers spent months scouring the state and encouraging citizens to apply to serve as Commissioners. An amazing 9,600 Michiganders submitted applications!
- Then, volunteers found and recruited underserved COIs – groups that might not be able to participate in the redistricting process without our support. We informed COIs across the state about the Constitutional amendment’s criteria for drawing voting districts and the importance of considering COIs. Altogether, we funded and mentored a dozen COIs, providing educational presentations about redistricting, how to make effective presentations, and how to create community maps and submit them to the Commission. We also kept the communities informed about the redistricting timeline so they would not miss their opportunities to talk to the Commission.
- At the same time, it was clear that the general public in Michigan was still mostly unaware of the redistricting process, so we have done more than 80 presentations and webinars for the public, mostly on zoom, and reached about 7,500 viewers.
- Finally, we realized that the media mostly lacked the capacity to devote long hours to watching MICRC meetings, so we began to provide a daily online report about the Commission meetings. VNP staff and volunteers devoted hundreds of hours to taking notes on each day’s Commission meeting and then distilled the information into a blog which was sent to reporters and others who needed unbiased, objective information about the Commission’s progress on redistricting.
- Throughout the Michigan redistricting process, Nancy Wang has been regularly interviewed by the media, with reporters eagerly seeking her opinions on the Commission’s work. Her comments have appeared in dozens of media outlets, and she has held frequent press conferences with other experts to explain the redistricting process and offer suggestions for improving it. She and other VNP staff have also held biweekly collaborative meetings with other nonprofits to share information.
What can we expect between now and December 30th?
It will be a busy couple of months for the MICRC, and you can be sure that Michigan redistricting will be in the news. As we hear that news, we should think about the substantial and vital contributions that VNP has made to the process. As VNP volunteers, we can feel very proud of our accomplishments!