Efforts to Redraw Michigan District Maps for More Black Representation Takes on Legal Fight

Citizens in Michigan voted in 2018 to end gerrymandering, a referendum led by the group Voter, Not Politicians. In previous years, gerrymandering allowed politicians to draw up maps to manipulate or cast favor to one political party or for election results they wanted. In 2022, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, a bipartisan group, took on the role of drawing up new statewide boundaries.


According to the State of Michigan’s website, the commission’s mission was to “assure Michigan’s Congressional, State Senate and State House district lines are drawn fairly in a citizen lead, transparent process, meeting Constitutional mandates.”


The criteria for reaching a fair and equitable standard called on the commission to access equal population, adhere to the Voting Rights Act, community interest, and partisan fairness.


Several of the community meetings at the time called for changes to the process and slicing up of districts, which some felt deluded the Black and Detroit vote and congressional representation across the state.


“We find that these measures are being designed to keep us out of bound”, said Rev. Wendell Anthony, President of the Detroit Branch NAACP, in 2022. “We find that these maps being formed are designed not to include us but to exclude us. These packs which were designed by racking, stacking, packing, are designed to keep us out”.


Now, the approved Michigan district map is being challenged with a lawsuit in federal court.


Plaintiffs in the case argue that the drawn maps weaken the voting power of Black constituents in Metro Detroit. The lawsuit also alleges the drawn district maps violate the 14th Amendment, which allows for equal protection under the law. The suit claims the new Michigan maps violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well.


“I’m hoping that right thinking people will join in the effort to correct these maps,” said Shanelle Jackson, former State Representative. “We need to make sure that the vote and the voice of African Americans across the state of Michigan is not diluted and is ultimately valued the same as everyone else’s voice and vote.”


Black Leadership Matters has joined the fight on this issue, aligning with a bipartisan effort to challenge the current district maps. Specifically, the maps the commission adopted altered districts around Detroit where nearly 80% of the city’s residents are Black and extended lines to include suburban voters. The old maps had some districts at over 90% Black voter majorities, and now the area’s districts have been reduced to 35 to 55% Black majorities.


“Are we saying now that racial quotas are okay?” said Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, also a former Michigan State Representative. “Are we now somehow saying because the Democrats have a majority that Black people and their desire select their own candidate must take a back seat? Are we saying it’s now okay not to have one majority Black seat in the Senate?”


“These are some things we need to do some self-inventory as Black people. Not Black people that have been paid off by the party to be quiet, but those who understand the history for years to come and what the impact will be on our children.”


The fight to secure the Black vote and its representation in Michigan mirrors the legal fight settled by the Supreme Court in late September. The high court struck down Alabama’s attempt to avoid creating a second Black majority district to acknowledge the state’s 27% Black population.


The Supreme Court’s rejection of Alabama’s bid the second time around mirrors the high court’s decision in June, which agreed with a lower court’s ruling to redraw its congressional maps to reflect another majority Black district in the state.


“We want maps that honor the Voting Rights Acts,” Jackson says. “We want that makes sure that every person who votes, that their votes are counted correctly and that their voices are heard through their vote.”


The Supreme Court decision in Alabama could come with ramifications for redistricting efforts on a national level as some states contend with the public and political pressures of drawing up maps that are inclusive and representative of all communities while not violating laws that dilute the votes and voice of Black constituents.


As of now, there’s no date for when this trial is scheduled to begin, but the fate of the local democracy could be altered if the power of the Black vote is changed in the wake of the proposed redistricting.

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