Redistricting panel advances congressional, Senate maps

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FILE – This March 19, 2020, file photo, shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s redistricting commission voted to advance proposed congressional and state Senate maps to the final stage of the process, approving lines that would be fairer to Democrats than those drawn by Republican lawmakers in the last two decades.

It was the first time the panel submitted plans for a closing 45-day public comment period. It was unclear if commissioners may also offer alternative Senate and U.S. House proposals later in the week or stand pat. They faced a Friday deadline to propose maps, with votes on final maps expected by late December.

The commission was created by voters in 2018 to handle the once-a-decade process of drawing congressional and legislative boundaries instead of the partisan Legislature.

The panel used a composite of the last 13 statewide races to show Democrats won 52% of votes while Republicans got 48%. Democrats could have a 20-18 edge in the Senate under such a scenario.

Due to 2011 gerrymandering, Republicans secured a 22-16 majority after the 2018 election despite Democrat Gretchen Whitmer winning the governorship by nearly 10 percentage points.

“It’s a good map. I think it’s a great map actually,” said commissioner Anthony Eid, one of five members who affiliates with neither major party. “It supports communities of interest. It supports all of the (federal Voting Rights Act) considerations that we’ve been looking at. … The composite scores of all 10 years of election history show that it’s a fair map on accepted measures of partisan fairness.”

Michigan is losing a U.S. House seat, leaving it with 13.

Under three proposed congressional maps, there could be 7-6 splits in favor of either party if it is competitive statewide. The final districts will lead to a shakeup in the delegation. Many incumbents could square off in primaries or file to run in a different district to avoid that.

Both the congressional and legislative maps appear likely to be challenged in court in part because of opposition from the Black community in Detroit. Minority voters are required to have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.

Michigan would no longer have any majority-African American districts after the panel decided that Black voters could comprise more than 40% but less than half of the voting-age population and still elect minority candidates.

Commissioner Brittni Kellom, a Black Democrat from Detroit, late Monday began to propose a fourth congressional map that would make changes to two districts in the city and surrounding areas in response to public feedback, but she ran into some initial opposition from other panel members.

“It’s upsetting, and people are watching and listening,” Kellom said while crying. “I’m passionate about this. I watch you all spin your wheels online for other things, and this is important.”

But Chair Rebecca Szetela, an unaffiliated commissioner, questioned if the alternative would be an improvement.

“I’m not seeing the justification because I don’t really see these two districts as being much better. That’s what I’m struggling with. I’m not trying to silence you,” she said.

The commission planned to continue deliberations Tuesday, including on state House districts and potentially the fourth congressional map.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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