The new census numbers are in and that means its times to draw some lines! Redistricting occurs every ten years and it is the process but which new community, state, and federal districts are redrawn according to the changes in populations and their distributions. Local, state, and federal levels of government are all required to redistrict after each census is released. For Michigan, this year’s redistricting is very important indeed.
Detroit has lost a significant number of citizens and overall, Michigan has lost one representative in Congress. This means there will likely be significant changes in Southeast Michigan and those changes will ripple throughout the state. Even though the state may see some big changes in its districts, the main cause of concern for many citizens, is the redistricting process itself.
A citizen’s district determines whom he votes for in elections and whom he is voting with. Since this is the case, redistricting can have a big impact on the voice of citizens. The redistricting process is controlled by the Legislature, which means it is controlled by the majority party. This year, that means the Republicans are in control of the process. Regardless of the party though, redistricting historically has been a slightly secretive and very political process.
What typically happens during redistricting is that instead of creating districts that accurately represent communities, districts are created to win future elections. The majority party focuses its redistricting around ‘swing districts’ – districts that are more or less bipartisan. By strategically drawing lines around these districts so that one party is more or less represented, majority parties can give a significant edge to their candidate in that district. In effect, swing districts are turned into ‘safe districts’ – districts that are highly secured by one party – thus gaining more seats in Congress and gaining an edge in the political process.
Many citizens are very unhappy about such political games and many are standing up against them. Two organizations that are leading the front are the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative, and Draw the Line Midwest. These organizations want the redistricting process to me more open and transparent. They want legislation that would appoint a commission to redistrict, not the Legislature. They want public hearings for discussion. And they want justifications explaining the hows and whys of each district.
Democrats in Congress are currently proposing such legislation, but Republicans do not seem inclined to pass it. Republicans believe the process is open enough as it is and it should be left alone. However, proponents of the legislation think the Republican’s stance on the issue is simply evidence of their desire to redistrict in a biased manner.
It seems some citizens are likely to have their voice silenced in future elections if the redistricting process continues to be used to create safe districts. That does not sound like a democratic process at all. California, Florida, and Iowa have created measures such as independent redistricting commissions to reduce such partisan politics. It seems more states, including Michigan, should do the same. To learn more about the issue and how you can help visit drawthelinemidwest.org