Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission: How Are the Maps Drawn?

Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission: How Are the Maps Drawn?


The fairness of any idea to reform partisan voting maps comes down to how the maps themselves end up being drawn. A lot of federal rules and longstanding traditions go into any effort to draw Congressional and Michigan House and Senate maps, including the proposal from Voters Not Politicians (VNP). The key difference: We want to take the manipulation done by politicians out of the process. VNP’s proposal returns the power over drawing voting maps to the voters, where it belongs.


What would maps look like if the voters approve VNP’s initiative at the ballot box in 2018? How will federal Congressional and state Senate and House maps look? Let’s get into the details.


Getting the Maps Drawn


There are a lot of things to consider when drawing voting maps. The 13 members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission would be required to draw maps that comply with these rules (in order of priority):


1. Districts must follow federal laws. They must contain close to an equal number of Michiganders to meet the “equal population” requirement in the U.S. Constitution and must comply wiht the Voting Rights Act.

2. Districts must be contiguous. Each district will be a single, unbroken shape.

3. Maps must reflect Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest (COI). Prioritizing COIs allows the Commission to keep together people who share a strong cultural, historical, or economic interests. VNP’s proposal specifically states, however, that voters’ relationships with one political party or another, or to an incumbent politician or political candidate may not form the basis for a community of interest. These provisions are necessary to prevent communities from being intentionally split apart (cracked) or packed with groups of divergent interests for no other reason than for partisan gain. Members of the public would be able to give input as to what they consider to be their communities of interest.

4. Maps must not give a disproportionate advantage to any political party. This determination will be based on an accepted measure of partisan fairness, such as, possibly, the efficiency gap or a mean-median difference analysis.

5. Maps must not favor or disfavor any incumbent politician or political candidate.

6. Maps must take into account existing city, township and county boundaries.

7. Districts must be reasonably compact. This is to prevent gerrymandered districts like Michigan has now, where there is a wide spread from a central point or odd indentations that do not make sense except to move voters from one district to a neighboring district for partisan gain.


The rules the Commission must follow are in a specific order for a reason. Drawing voting maps is complex. Often, one rule might clash with one another. That’s where the order comes in. If two rules are at odds during the map drawing process, a higher-priority rule takes precedence. For instance, it’s OK for a city to be divided into two districts if it helps those districts be contiguous. It’s not OK to divide a city for the sake of those districts being compact. Likewise, a community of interest could be divided between districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but not for the sake of following a county boundary.


The Commission will consider all of these rules in drawing maps for Michigan’s U.S. House seats, and for our seats in the state House and Senate. Each of the 13 members of the Commission —- four Republicans, four Democrats, and five non-affiliated voters —- can propose maps for each type of district. That is, each member can propose maps for the U.S. House, and for the state House and state Senate.


Then, the proposed maps go up for approval.


Approving the Maps


After all the maps are drawn, the Commission has to sort through and settle on three of the potential 39 voting maps (one for state senate districts, one for state house districts, and one for federal Congressional districts). Voting maps get approved by a simple majority of Commission members, and the group needs a nine member quorum to take action. The group votes and if a majority of members present favors one of the U.S. House maps drawn by one of the members, subject to compliance with the condition set forth in the paragraph below, that set of districts gets approved. Likewise, the group votes on maps for Michigan’s state House and Senate.


An extra layer of protection guards against partisan tinkering when the Commission votes on maps. While it only takes a simple majority to approve a voting map, that majority must represent the political spectrum. That majority must include at least two Republicans, two Democrats, and two non-affiliated members. This prevents, for example, Democratic members from aligning with like-minded non-affiliated members to gang up on the Republicans and ram through maps that favor Democrats.


What happens if a majority of the group can’t agree on one voting map? What happens if there aren’t enough Democrats, Republicans or nonaffiliated voters in a majority? Then, the process shifts to a system called modified Borda voting. That method can be a lot to explain, but we’ll summarize here. Each Commission member ranks the maps he or she favors. Those ranks would be assigned points (with first-ranked maps getting the most points). Subject to certain conditions, points for all ranked voting maps would get tallied, and the one with the most points would be approved.  If no plan satisfies all of the conditions, the Secretary of State shall randomly select the final plan from all the submitted plans.


Redistricting Done Right


It sounds like a lot, and it is in a sense. But it boils down to a group of ordinary citizens like you doing their part to make redistricting in Michigan fair. The group gets together, draws the voting maps with public input, and votes on them. The process guarantees the new maps are free from partisan manipulation. In short, it takes the power for drawing voting maps out of the hands of politicians and puts it in the hands of voters —- where it belongs.


If you agree, it’s time to get involved and take action. Here’s how:


Save the Date // save the date and vote YES for an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in the November, 6 2018 election!


Donate // the politicians and special interests who benefit from the current system will spend millions defending and protecting their unfair advantage. We have to fight back, and that will include advertising and putting together hundreds of local events across Michigan to educate voters on their rights. Donate to Voters Not Politicians here.


Volunteer // we are recruiting volunteers to spread the word in 2018 to help us end gerrymandering in Michigan! If you are interested in being a part of this vital part of the process, please click here.


Stay educated // learn more about gerrymandering and how you can defeat it! Stay up to date on campaign updates and news by signing up for our newsletter here.


Connect // follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates!


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  • Kevin Baas
    1. and #4 are in mathematical conflict. For instance, packing african american voters together amounts to partisan gerrymandering in favor of republicans. You can either have #3 or #4. Not both.

    And #3 is misguided. It has packing and cracking backwards.

    “These provisions are necessary to prevent communities from being intentionally split apart (cracked) or packed with groups of divergent interests for no other reason than for partisan gain.”

    This gets packing and cracking completely backwards.
    You pack similiar demographics in to few districts to reduce how many seats they can get.
    And you crack similiar demographics in to more districts to increase how many seats they can get.
    You pack demographic x to decrease their representation.
    You crack demographic y to increase their representation.
    Packing is done to harm the packed voters. You don’t want to be packed.
  • Robert Mendham
    I applaud the effort to remove politics from the districting process, however, after reading the entire proposal I have very significant concerns which force me to vote NO on this measure. Amending our state Constitution is not something to be taken lightly and with the flaws that I see in this proposal, I believe that it should NOT be adopted. For the record, I am NOT a member of any political party nor am I an employee of any political party or any lobbying entity.

    1. The proposal excludes from availability to serve on the Commission anyone who is an unclassified state employee – EXCEPT employees of the courts or institutions of higher education. Why are court employees and teachers allowed to serve but not other unclassified state employees? Many teachers are often very vocal advocates for political purposes so why are they allowed to serve when other state employees are not?What is the rationale for permitting this? Section 6(1)(B)(VII).

    2. The proposal provides very specific instructions with regard to the number of applications that must be distributed and received. However, the proposal is silent as to the procedure in the event that there is not a sufficient number of qualified applicants. Section 6(2)(A) & (B).

    3. Ambiguous language lacking any definition of the terms “substantial neglect of duty,” “gross misconduct in office,” and “inability to discharge the duties of office.” Failing to provide specific definitions of these very specific terms leaves this wide open to challenge and I presume subsequent judicial interpretation. What happens to the work of the commission while this is tied up in potential litigation? Section 6(3)(E).

    4. Section 4 mandates that the Secretary of State “SHALL . . . furnish . . . all technical services that the Commission deems necessary.” Further, it states that the Commission has “sole power” to establish its own rules and procedure without any definition or reference to any established guides such as “Robert’s Rules of Order,” etc. Additionally, the proposal gives the Commission unlimited power to hire and enter into contracts. There are virtually no limits on the Commission built in to this proposal and since the proposal also prohibits any supervision by the legislature or the executive branch, who will “police” the commission? Who will oversee their spending of tax dollars? No one apparently. Section 6(4).

    5. The proposal mandates that the legislature allocate a budget for the Commission an amount equal to “not less than 25%” of the Secretary of State budget; however, it is ambiguous in that this could be interpreted as mandating that the legislature take that allocation FROM the Secretary of State’s budget rather than a separate line item. The 2018-2019 fiscal year budget for the SOS is about $250 million dollars so this means that the legislature MUST give the Commission roughly $62 million dollars. WOW! Where is the legislature supposed to get that money? There are two alternatives, either they raise taxes on everyone, or some other state agency gets their budget cut, mostly all state agencies would see budget cuts.
    Section 6(5).

    6. The proposal mandates that Commissioners be compensated with a salary “at least equal to 25% of the governor’s salary.” In 2018 Michigan’s Governor is paid approximately $159,300.00 so this means that each Commissioner must be paid a minimum of $39,825.00 for serving in a voluntary position. With 13 Commissioners, this comes a little more than half a million dollars just for Commissioner salaries alone. This doesn’t include reimbursement for any of their “official expenses” nor does this include any per diem that I am sure they would be getting. Plus, this doesn’t include the salaries for anyone that the Commission deems necessary to hire and remember, there is no limit on how many people they can hire. There are no safeguards built in to this debacle. This is a major problem in my opinion. Section 6(5).

    7. Going hand-in-hand with the problems outlined in 6 above, the proposal gives the Commission the ability to initiate legal action against the state if they deem, in their sole discretion, that they don’t get enough money to fulfill their mission – which they alone will define and pursue – all with virtually no supervision from anyone. This is dangerous. If we wind up with people on the Commission who want to build a “kingdom” there are no checks and balances built into this proposal, remember, neither the legislature nor the governor can supervise the Commission. Once this is in the constitution it will take another constitutional amendment to change it.

    All in all, while I like the idea of taking politics out of the political districting process this proposal is too deeply flawed and in my opinion should not be adopted. I am voting NO and I encourage you to vote NO as well. For what it’s worth, I have no connection in any way whatsoever with any group supporting or opposing this proposal, this is entirely my own personal opinion. This proposal would create a fourth branch of government controlled by no one and answerable to no one. VOTE NO!
  • Jeffrey
    The “communities of interest” criterion seems wrongheaded to me. The linked document purporting to make a case for organizing districts according COIs states that those in a group are “likely to have similar legislative concerns.” There is nothing fair or equitable about presupposing my voting agenda based upon my cultural, racial, or even economic makeup. Certain states using COIs even explicitly define them as constituting “political interests” (Oklahoma)! I am an individual, not a community, and I vote according to my own individual interests. Organizing districts along so-called community lines is another way of stacking the deck. Once you (presumably) identify the community concerns, total the number of communities and their populations, and total the number of districts, one can (allegedly) predict any election.

    It would be better and more fair if the districts were built purely around population density, following existing census and jurisdictional lines. This would ensure that the districts were truly “blind” and non-partisan.
  • Annabelle Walch
    An equal map has been formed for the use of the norms and all ensured items. The items have been arranged for the use of http://esssayontime.com/ for all links and attachments for the people in life.
  • Jack Bengtsson
    I see the only guideline for population variance is, “1. Districts must have equal population as required by the U.S. Constitution”. While that is true for U.S. Congressional districts, I believe the U.S. Constitution is not that specific with regard to State Legislative districts and the courts have allowed some variance for State legislative districts. Does that mean the commission will continue to use the existing guideline of +/- 5%?
    I find it odd that there is not a specific guideline for State Legislative districts.
  • Anonymous
    I think that there should be a rule that someone can only serve on the commission once.

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