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Redistricting commission hears from public: keep our communities together

A wide angle shot of the Capitol Building in Lansing
Lester Graham
/
Michigan Radio
Republicans hope to have their redistricting plans finished by July 1st, according to the Associated Press.

The overarching sentiment from the public comment period was the same – don’t divide my community into more than one political district.

70 residents attended Michigan Citizen Redistricting Committee's (MICRC) first public hearing Tuesday night in Jackson in-person to deliver public comment. Michael Smith repeated a sentiment that was shared often: boundaries between new political districts shouldn’t cut through existing school districts.

Several commenters told the commission that keeping school districts in the same political district should be the organizing principle of the new district maps for Congress and the state legislature.

“I think it just makes sense for people who live in a given school district to have one person to go and talk to, to bring their issues to in all those legislative bodies,” Smith said.

The MICRC will host 15 additional public hearings seeking input from the public on how they want to be represented in the redistricting process, and how Michigan's new political maps should take shape. The commission wants to hear from communities of people that share a common interests.

For the three hour meeting, Commissioners simply sat and listened to the parade of public input. Many speakers expressed hope and gratitude that MICRC would draw maps which are less gerrymandered than Michigan’s current district lines for Congressional and state legislature seats.

Geoff Lowes, a teacher at Jackson High School and an Ann Arbor resident, was among the commenters who described their dissatisfaction with Michigan’s current gerrymandered district lines.

“Jackson County’s current map could at best be called surreal,” Lowes said. “We are all best represented when our elected officials are selected in fair and completive contests that require them to be representatives of as many of the people in their district as possible rather than just a partisan base.”

Numerous people who gave public comments who said they lived in rural Washtenaw or Jackson mentioned the lack of available high-speed internet as a problem that made working from home difficult during the pandemic. Many commenters concluded by thanking the commission – an acknowledgement of the difficult task of drawing new political maps fairly.

James Johnson told the commission he works in Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, but he lives in rural Jackson County, where he says he can’t get high speed internet. He wants new district lines that give commuters like him voting power. Johnson asked the commission to draw political maps that group Jackson and Washtenaw counties in the same district.

“It would be nice to have a representative that represents me where I live and where I work,” Johnson said. “Thank you for your time.”

Some commenters from rural areas of Michigan said they wanted to be kept in larger geographic districts comprised of rural areas to create a district where the culture and values of out-state communities can be grouped together. This is at odds with the wishes of Johnson and others who commute from rural areas to urban areas for work.

Others hoped the commission would consider neighborhood lake associations and watersheds as communities which shouldn’t be divided by the new district maps.

The new political district maps will take effect prior to the 2022 primary and general elections. The MICRC’s next public hearing is Thursday night in Kalamazoo. Find meeting details and how to watch the livestream here.

Commissioners urged all members of the public to submit their public comments in detail (including maps and any discussion of specific geographic areas, through the commission’s online portal.  

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