Michigan Congressional Redistricting and Its Challenges
By John Conyers, Jr.
June 30, 2011
As it is expected for Michigan Governor Snyder to sign into law the redistricting maps for the House, Senate and Congressional Districts. It is also expected that, by law, there will be legal challenges to contest these maps, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) law.
The first of the Democratic challenges to the Republican controlled redistricting process was the introduction of House Bill 4557 to hold at least 6 public hearings around the state on the process based on 2010 U.S. Census data. Other than being referred to the Committee on Redistricting and Elections, there has been no movement and more than likely, it will die in Committee as the maps will have been signed into law.
The next challenge of the Democrats will be in a court of law within the 30-day window after the maps are signed into law. The majority has had 10 years to well prepare its counter-arguments to legal challenges of congressional redistricting maps.
Challenge 1: Apol Standards: Michigan redistricting plans began in 2001when Republicans commenced their strategy to recapture and maintain power by drafting up 6 maps based upon the Apol standards to prepare for Democratic challenges.
The Apol standards, named for Bernie Apol, the retired state director of elections who was appointed Special Master to construct state standards, fostered criteria for the creation of state legislative districts pursuant to VRA contain roughly equal populations, featuring contiguous and compact boundaries, maintaining respect for municipal and county boundaries to the extent possible and assuring representation for minority groups.
In 2002, Michigan Supreme Court opined in LeRoux v. Secretary of State that lawmakers could “repeal, amend, or ignore” the standards “as it pleased” as the Apol criteria were irrelevant for congressional districts and said the Legislature was not bound to follow Apol guidelines as written into state law.
The main principle which manifested from the opinion, promulgating a clarification on how congressional districts are drawn, was called “Precise Mathematical Equity” where “as nearly as practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is . . . worth as much as another’s.” Translated, empirical scientific methodology, utilizing quantified data, was, for the first time, integrated into the election process and law.
Using Geographic Information Science (GIS) where U.S. Census voting and registration data can be easily imported to create thermatic, heat-ramped, maps to visually show population shifts and demographic make up of specific areas in congressional districts.
Simply put, technology is colorblind in creating congressional redistricting maps, thus Apol standards should not have to apply.
Challenge 2: Division and Overpacking of Minority Communities: Consider the Democratic arguments that congressional redistricting should not deviate from the precision of county boundaries. To purport that congressional districts should follow 18th century surveying techniques as opposed to sophisticated statistical methodology of today is not very progressive nor innovative, creating geographic anomalies of division and overpacking of minority communities.
For example, an African-American community links Detroit and Southfield, but county lines both divide the community and overpack minority Detroit residents into legislative districts that follow these county lines, appearing to limit minority citizens’ voting strength in the community Southfield, raising serious questions of possible violations of the Voting Rights Act on the part of Democrats. Thus, the Republican congressional redistricting maps deviate from the rigidity of Michigan’s existing county-city-township hierarchy intentionally designed to ameliorate the bias of divisive and overpacking of communities.
As Detroit, specifically the 14th Congressional District, has significantly lost population, reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census data, Oakland County gained population as these constituents migrated to local regions of Farmington, Southfield, Oak Park, West Bloomfield. The new maps were generated to reflect the increase in African-American Voting Age Population by capturing this minority migration of 14th Congressional Districts constituents, resulting in what some have called gerrymandering.
Again, technology removes biases when producing the geographic boundaries of congressional redistricting maps.
Challenge 3: Membership in a Language Minority Group: The VRA did not only establish protections for African Americans, it also embraced membership in a language minority group which includes "persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives or of Spanish heritage.
Based upon federal rules, there will be substantive counter actions when the new maps of the congressional redistricting maps are challenged under the VRA. The U.S. Attorney General has adopted guidelines to assist covered jurisdictions in understanding their responsibilities under Sections 4(f)(4) and 203 regarding the aforementioned language minorities, but what will definitely be raised will be the language classifications for Asian Americans. A sample of these language groups are identified as: Arabic, Bengli, Cambodian, Chinese, Farsi, Hindu, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, the Philippine, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, and Vietnamese, where key concentrated populations of these Asian language communities are found scattered throughout the newly designed 14th Congressional District.
The Michigan Congressional Redistricting Maps generated a 14th Congressional Voting Age African American Population percentage total of 57.05%, a negative change of 3.95% when compared to the 2000 14th Congressional District map, opening the door to violation under Section 5 violation of the VRA. Reporting of this “.05%”, at first glance, leaves one to suspect a possible statistical error rating, triggering the filing of Democratic minority lawsuits.
Naturally, majority counter-arguments will quash arguments of gerrymandering based upon race, ethnicity or language. The City of Hamtramck is a plethora of Asian language communities recognized under VRA, changing the percentage formulas for what is calculated as a violation under Section 5. It is speculated that Hamtramck was intentionally incorporated into the new 14th Congressional District to politically embarrass congressional redistricting challengers as their legal arguments would be found to be divisive and exclude the Asian language communities by only advocating for the African American Voting Age Population.
Every person of the voting age population has a right to vote and to representation based upon the constitutional premise that “all” are created equal without distinction of race, ethnicity or language. I believe the congressional redistricting maps were created by the blind justice of the majority. It is time that we, as a society, progress to embrace innovation and technology to guarantee a productive future for our children.
Challenge 4: The only serious challenge I will have with the newly formatted 14th Congressional District is having too much enjoyment getting to know the people and the landscape. I have always been proud to promote the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a very dear friend of mine, throughout the communities of the world, but now, I have a global constituency right here in Michigan, in my new District, to share this message of peace.