LANSING, Mich. — Preliminary maps of new state Senate districts released by the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission give Republicans a slight upper hand, despite the commission's charge to draw purely nonpartisan maps.
But experts say the new districts are fairer than the current ones.
“We’re calling them drafts, proposed drafts. There is a dominant one with some alternatives and we’re exploring how to create those alternatives and those will also be considered," said MC Rothhorn, a commissioner who lives in Lansing.
This year's redistricting process is new for Michigan. Voters called for an independent commission to redraw district maps for congressional seats and for state House and Senate districts. The commission is required to draw fair maps that avoid unequal benefits to any political party.
"I believe is that the best way to get nonpartisan is to have this balance of partisan understanding. I think we all come with biases, right? So we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got trying to comply with the constitution," Rothhorn said.
An evaluation by PlanScore, a nonpartisan project from the Campaign Legal Center, shows the proposed districts will still be an efficiency gap, which is the number of votes that don't help a political party win an election, for instance, in districts where one party wins by a landslide.
Two of the proposed options have an efficiency gap of 4.6 percent in favor of Republicans. Under the current district lines, there's an efficiency gap of 15.1 percent.
State Sen. Curtis Hertel said that, while it's not purely nonpartisan, it's still a significant improvement.
“It certainly is significant," he said. "I would like there to be no gap I think at the end of the day no party should have an advantage in a purple state like Michigan.”
These preliminary maps come as the commission is feeling the pressure to meet a difficult and looming deadline. Voters not Politicians, a ballot committee created in 2018, is encouraging the commission to add more days to draft the maps.
“We are really asking the commission to add days for mapping before the 22nd. You know we’ve made that concern clear," said Nancy Wang who serves as the executive director of Voters not Politicians.
Rothhorn said that the commission is considering the request.
“We are considering it.. I just can’t speak to it because we haven’t made a decision as the 13 of us just yet," he said.