COMMENTARY: Redistricting in Michigan and Race!

By Heaster Wheeler

Redistricting in Michigan has dealt African Americans a bad hand. The ‘so called’ Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission fell far short of fairness with no consideration of the history, legacy, and need for voting rights protections.  


The Voting Rights Act is in place for a reason!  Every racial or ethnic community should have a chance to elect the candidate of their choice. Failure to adhere to a 50%+ commitment diminished the likelihood that African American seats could be protected. Add to that the likelihood of a large number of candidates and a non-African American millionaire ‘interloper’ and African American representation is less likely. 


The Voting Rights Act, in part, prevents voting districts being drawn in a manner which dilutes the votes of minority voters. Michigan has a history and current reality of racially polarized voting. Thus, these new Michigan lines violate the U.S Voting Rights Act.  


In addition to the ongoing attacks on voting rights by mean-spirited types, there are rare instances when Blacks benefit from white crossover voting. Ask Senators Marshall Bullock and Adam Hollier. Bullocks’ new Senate district extended way over into predominantly white communities in Oakland Counties, which do not have significant African American populations or a history of voting for Blacks. 



During the campaign, Mr. Bullock received lots of racist comments as to why some white suburbanites would not vote for him. Several Black Detroit candidates were reported to police for suspicious activity while canvassing in suburban communities. Only 1 of the 19+ communities in the new 13th Congressional District went for an African American candidate. 


For the first time in more than 60 years, Detroit, which is over 75% African American will not have an African American representative in Congress, and there will be no African American men in the Michigan Senate.  


Speaking of African American men, Donovon McKinney, State Representative-Elect, experienced ‘Campaigning While Black’ as he was detained twice by police in Warren and Centerline.  He was regularly called the ‘n-word while canvassing door-to-door in those same communities.


Representative Helena Scott and members of her campaign team were told by suburban residents to stay off of their porches, and city clerks told them they were violating the ‘no solicitation’ request!  They were also told they could only leave literature if residents/voters answered the door.


Democratic victories are no substitute for protecting voting rights as an African American elected official and a Democrat are not automatically the same thing. Police issues, poverty, educational accomplishments and opportunities are not the same for each community. 


Regardless of intent, the impact is racially disparate!  Michigan should do better than Mississippi!  And in the case of interlopers, we should consider:


  1. Georgias ‘Run off’ law where candidates must receive 50%+ of the vote or
  2. California’s ‘Top Two’ primary laws. Candidates receiving less than 50% of the vote in the primary must advance to the General!


Heaster Wheeler is a voting rights advocate, mentor, and lifelong Detroit resident. He is the former Assistant Secretary of State for Michigan and former Executive Director for the NAACP Detroit Branch. 

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