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Redistricting Commission continues hearings amid public scrutiny

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is working to create fair district lines that replace the current districts. Many people have concerns over the proposal to divide majority-Black Detroit into districts shared with less diverse suburbs.

After a public comment phase that started this week ends, the Commission will have slightly more than a week before the next deadline in the redistricting process on Nov. 5.

Members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission are reacting to a recent state analysis from the state Department of Civil Rights suggesting some of their work would violate the Voting Rights Act.

At issue is the commission’s interpretation of what’s considered a “majority-minority” district.

Many people have concerns over the proposal to divide majority-Black Detroit into districts shared with less diverse suburbs.

Commission chair Rebecca Szetela said public comment expressing discontent with draft maps from the commission’s Detroit Public hearing Wednesday affected her.

“I think when you hear comments like that, you have to listen to them. And you have to respect the concerns and look into it,” Szetela said.

Critics claim splitting up mostly Black Detroit into districts shared with the city’s suburbs would illegally reduce minority voting power.

Voting rights attorney Bruce Adelson has been advising the redistricting commission. He says data suggest Black voters in Michigan don’t necessarily need to make up most of a district to make their voices heard.

“Unlike in some other parts of the country, you don’t have massive extreme racial polarization so that minority voters, in order to elect candidates of choice, need 70% voting age population,” Adelson said.

Some commissioners are pointing to increased partisan fairness scores that come along with splitting Detroit.

“We know that that created a better score on partisan fairness so we know that there’s a relationship there. What we did was actually try to respond to public comment. We did try to preserve communities of interest because not every community in Detroit was carved up,” Commissioner M.C. Rothhorn said

The commission must consider seven criteria when coming up with maps. That includes population size, geography, diversity, partisan fairness, neutrality to incumbent officials and candidates, local government boundaries, and reasonable compactness.

Commissioner Steven Lett said the commission’s guideline that it must consider so-called “communities of interest” complicates its work.

“There’s no definition of what a definition of what a community of interest is. And what the commission may think is a community of interest, that community of interest may think that’s not correct,” Lett said.