Redistricting commission seeks more public input

Sue Hammersmith, executive director of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, talks at a Tuesday public hearing at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University, where the commission heard community input on political redistricting in Michigan. Maps will be drawn after the commission receives census numbers. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Community input is considered a crucial component to political redistricting in Michigan, and it was provided at Tuesday’s Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission public hearing at the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University.

The purpose of the event was to provide an opportunity for citizens — and the entire Upper Peninsula — to give information they want the commission to consider when it starts drawing Michigan House, Michigan Senate and U.S. congressional maps, commission member Steven T. Lett said.

For example, one citizen told the commission that Baraga, Marquette and Alger counties should stay as a unit in the 109th District since they share similar interests in industries such as shipping and mining.

The U.P., Lett stressed, will be a part of the overall discussion.

“We’re going to listen to everybody as we do at all locations,” Lett said. “The biggest difference is, obviously, the population. The population up here is a little smaller than it is, say, in Detroit, but we still have to have the input from them, from the citizens, because we have townships. We have counties. We have cities up here, just like we do everywhere else, and those all have to be taken into consideration.”

Lett said there are 13 commission members — four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. He is an independent.

The issue originally was brought to the forefront when Voters Not Politicians was founded as a ballot initiative to end gerrymandering in Michigan.

According to the Secretary of State website, Michigan voters in November 2018 amended the Michigan Constitution to establish a commission of citizens with exclusive authority to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate as well as the U.S. Congress every 10 years.

The state Constitution requires that the commission adopt a restructuring plan no later than Nov. 1.

The League of Women Voters of Michigan, along with local leagues, have undertaken a widespread educational effort to help voters understand redistricting and to ensure the commission represents what it called “communities of interest” through the process of drawing new maps. The League of Women Voters of Marquette County was involved in Tuesday’s hearing.

A full list of public hearings is available on the Secretary of State’s website at michigan.gov/sos/ and RedistrictingMichigan.org.

The next step is to work on redrawing maps Lett said.

“Obviously, we’re waiting for the census numbers to come out, just like everybody else in the United States is,” Lett said.

Drawing lines, he noted, is important.

“The first thing that you look at when drawing lines is population, and the districts have to be pre-equal in population,” Lett said. “There can be some variance, say 5% plus or minus, but they have to be equal. One vote, one person.”

Sue Hammersmith, MICRC executive director, said the commission is entrusted with operating in an “impartial and transparent manner that reinforces public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.”

She told forum attendees they should care about the effort.

“This is a historic process,” Hammersmith said. “This is the very first time the lines have been drawn by citizens just like you.”

Marquette County Commissioner John DePetro expressed his appreciation for the process at the hearing.

“We’ve been waiting for years to see this happen face to face,” he said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net


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