Detroit City Council is undertaking the redistricting of council districts, a process guided by a memo from the Law Department issued in May 2022. This redistricting, mandated to align with the latest Census results as per Detroit’s City Charter, must be completed by January 2024. The core principles dictating this process are compactness, connectivity, and relative equality in size of the districts, while also respecting political subdivisions such as voting precincts.
The Law Department has laid out three distinct redistricting options, each aligning with the city charter’s requirements but differing in their prioritization criteria. The first option emphasizes maintaining even boundaries along major roads, even at the cost of slight disparities in population sizes across districts. The second option swings the balance towards ensuring nearly equal populations in each district, leading to more irregular boundaries compared to the first approach. The third option is more conservative in its approach, aiming to keep District 5’s boundaries as close to their current form as possible, contrasting the more significant changes proposed in the first two options.
Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield representing District 5 shared with Michigan Chronicle, “The proposed redistricting wouldn’t take effect until 2025. At that time (post-election), there could be many newly elected Council Members of the districts which would have an impact on residents in addition to the proposed maps. While some of the proposed maps show slight changes to the boundary lines, the main concern that is being shared from residents is ensuring that neighborhoods who have longstanding history stay together and intact.”
Though there may be a slight bit of concern in when it comes to the reality of whether districts will change or not, Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero of District 6 shared that, “Based on the options proposed, there will likely be little overall impact on the current boundaries of District 6 due to being bordered by Dearborn to the west and Detroit River to the south; however, there are a few options in which some neighborhoods may be split up. The goal of any redistricting effort is to ensure that all constituents have as equal representation as possible without significant changes and disenfranchising residents. To that end, all options proposed would result in more equal population in each district.”
On October 31, during the conclusion of their Formal Session, the City Council engaged in a pivotal discussion on the redistricting process, based on a report and proposed maps from the Legislative Policy Division (LPD). This discussion culminated in a motion directing the LPD to develop two additional redistricting map options. These new maps will augment the already provided three, giving the council a broader range of choices.
“With our submission of the two additional map options, the Council now has five total options to consider,” said LPD Director David Whitaker in a memo to the council. “We recommend your review and public socialization of these maps and any additional maps or variations that may be requested, from now through your return from recess. To aid in the socialization process, we suggest posting the maps and a corresponding narrative describing their preparation and the regulations that govern redistricting, to the City Council webpage.”
Whitaker emphasized the meticulous effort behind the preparation of the optional redistricting maps for Detroit. He highlighted that these maps were designed with a strict adherence to legal requirements, aiming to create districts that are close in population, contiguous, and compact. Whitaker pointed out the significant population loss in Districts 4 and 3, and to a lesser extent in Districts 5 and 6, necessitating adjustments across all districts to achieve a balanced population distribution in the proposed options. He also noted the impact of the newly adopted grid of voting precincts on the redistricting process. This new precinct grid, which has 50 fewer precincts due to merging, not only differs in Census data but also in its configuration from the one used in 2012. As a result, some existing district boundary lines are no longer viable, as the precincts that previously defined them have either ceased to exist or have been consolidated, demanding a reconfiguration of district boundaries to align with the city’s evolving demographics.
“City Council had a conversation about the redistricting process today [Tuesday] during Formal Session to help socialize the issue. This is just the beginning,” Santiago-Romero said. “As a community organizer, we cannot expect residents to be engaged with local government and advocate for their needs if they don’t know who their representative is. To that end, the first step the City ought to take upon approval of redistricting is informing the public of any changes. From there, I hope residents and council members will work to both build and enhance relationships.”
Several council members, recognizing the significance of this issue, agree that it warrants more thorough discussion. “I know that my office, along with my colleagues, are committed to hosting townhalls and discussions around this topic to receive resident feedback and input to ensure that they are included in the process,” shared Sheffield. Consequently, Councilmember Pro Tem James Tate from District 1 plans to dedicate a substantial portion of his next community meeting to an in-depth conversation on this topic. Echoing this sentiment Santiago-Romero shared, “My office is also planning to host a virtual meeting for D6 before the Christmas holiday. Residents are encouraged to provide feedback to the City Planning Commission and are also welcome to provide feedback to my office.”
As the council moves forward, they have also requested guidance from the LPD on the process to adopt the new districts. This decision-making process is not just a technical exercise but holds substantial implications for the constituents and council members alike. Key questions arise:
- Impact on Communities: How will redistricting affect community representation and cohesion? Will it lead to more effective governance or disrupt established community ties?
- Political Implications: How might these changes influence the political landscape of Detroit? Will certain districts gain more influence or lose it as a result of the redistricting?
- Public Participation: What role will public opinion and feedback play in the final decision? How can constituents ensure their voices are heard in this crucial process?
- Equity and Fairness: How will the council ensure that the redistricting process is fair and equitable, particularly in terms of minority representation and avoiding gerrymandering?
“Per the City Charter, redistricting happens every 10 years based on population per the census. The law requires that the city creates new districts that are similar in population, contiguous, and protects communities of common interests. Currently, the proposed maps that are before us attempts to accomplish those goals with minimal changes,” said Sheffield. “The goal is to modify the boundaries of the current districts to minimize extensive changes to preserve the core of each district. It is also noted in the four key principles that the districts do not divide any other minority group. My office has submitted questions relative to neighborhood and community groups/associations that have a longstanding presence in their communities being kept whole during this process.”
“Regardless of the outcome, I will continue to build relationships with residents while advocating for greater investments in city infrastructure and programs and services that create the vibrant, thriving communities that my constituents – and indeed all Detroiters – deserve,” shared Santiago-Romero. “We ought to be providing more funding for home repairs and affordable housing to ensure folks are safely housed, work towards reliable public transit, ensure all neighborhoods have access to healthy food, and so much more. These are some of the basic requirements to living a quality life.”
As Detroit navigates this complex and impactful process, these questions underscore the importance of a balanced approach that respects both legal mandates and the diverse needs of its communities. The council’s decisions in the coming months will set the tone for the city’s political landscape for years to come.