LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission came to Lansing on Thursday evening to gather public comment from residents on redrawing the state's congressional and legislative districts.
The public hearing is part of a series of 16 meetings held across Michigan.
“This will be very important. This will be one of the most important things that will happen over the next decade, and I think it’s going to set a tone for what’s to come after this,” said Chris Stewart of Lansing.
Stewart explained that he attended the meeting to share his point of view on the redistricting process in the Lansing area.
District lines are redrawn every 10 years using Census data. The way a district is drawn can have a major impact on which politicians get elected. In the past, the political party in power would redraw those district lines but the practice led to gerrymandered districts and less competitive elections.
The commission was created by the state's voters to prevent that process from continuing.
One resident expressed worry over the commission’s ability to really engage with communities in what she considered a short amount of time.
“I’m concerned about the accountability of the redistricting committee,” said LeAnn Kirrmann, explaining that she feels the commissioners will not spend enough time in each location. “There won’t be any accountability at all, they’re here for a short time and then a new group will be done to redraw lines again.”
Each public hearing includes upwards of 100 residents sharing their perspectives. Additionally, the commission considers public comments gathered through their online portal.
Another resident, Linda Lee Tarver of Lansing, who has served in numerous Republican organizations and the local, state, and national level, attended Thursday's public hearing to voice her concern over communities of interest.
We shouldn’t "base any kind of redistricting on a cluster of people who choose to live near each other, it should be free of bias,” said Tarver. “That’s my biggest concern as a former Michigan civil rights commissioner.”
A community of interest is typically a neighborhood, group of people or a community that shares a common concern that would benefit by being considered a single political district.
Tarver explained that, to her, grouping people together based primarily on where people live can quickly start to look like redlining; a practice where officials deem certain neighborhoods undesirable and refuse services or bank loans. The practice has often been used to discriminate against communities of color.
The commission is facing a tight timeline to redraw the district maps.
Before actually drawing new districts the commission must also review Census data which won’t be released from the federal government until mid-September.
The commission will hold public hearings in Flint and Dearborn next week. Public comment at the meetings will continue until the commission completes its tour of the state in July.