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Michigan groups call for a transparent redistricting process

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinPolitics_Thumb1.jpgWith the 2010 census data now on record it’s time for the state to redraw its electoral districts, a process that several Michigan groups believe should be a more transparent process.

Last Wednesday several groups testified in front of the Senate Redistricting Committee to voice their concerns about the changing political boundaries and where the voice of Michigan citizens fit into the picture.

Jocelyn Benson was first in line to speak before the committee. She showed the committee several citizen-made redistricting maps which were created through the Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition (MCRC).

The MCRC is a nonpartisan project created by the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration along with the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative.

Benson said the goal for the project was simple. “I wanted to give citizens an opportunity to have a say, to get us closer where we need to be as a state where citizens have an active voice in the redistricting process.”

The project involves an interactive website with tools that allow people to create their own district maps. The software provides “a variety of mapping tools, as well as population information and legal guidance to help each entrant develop fair, legal maps,” according to the testimony.

There were 232 plans submitted to the site overall and the top 15 were presented to the committee.

“I would think it would be a true testament to our democratic process if either the House or the Senate did embrace one of the peoples’ plans,” said Benson. “We believe that people have a better idea of where the line should be drawn than the politicians themselves.”

The project seemed to be well received by the committee and the members indicated that they wanted to see all 232 of the maps, not just the initial 15.

Sen. Steve Bieda said after Benson’s testimony, “I think this is wonderful, this is an important part to our representative government, every ten years you have an opportunity to do this, get people involved and engaged in the process.”

Sue Smith of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative, a group made up of more than 35 nonprofit organizations throughout, also testified and said this is all new for the state. “Unfortunately,” she said, “Michigan, unlike other states, does not have a history of providing opportunities for public input on redistricting plans.”

She went on to give her organization’s sentiments on the previous redistricting cycle and what other states have done to include citizens in the process. She cited Iowa and Illinois as having taken steps to do so.

“Here in Michigan, however, we haven’t seen any maps,” said Smith. “Our concern is that this redistricting process will be similar to the one in 2001 when redistricting legislation was adopted by a legislative conference committee, with no members of the public being afforded a chance to even look at the maps, let alone offer any significant input, and then approved on straight party line votes and sent to Gov. John Engler for prompt signature. The secretive actions only added to public skepticism about the political process — and rightly so.”

Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting had little hope that the legislature would pay any attention to the MCRC project.

“[They are] completely irrelevant to everything that has to do with apportionment within a district. People who are submitting districts are totally irrelevant. They don’t have the faintest connection to it whatsoever,” said Grebner in regards to the maps submitted through the MCRC. “They’re not even going to notice them.”

Grebner went on to say that the redistricting process has always been a closed process, even when he was involved, and gerrymandering –creating political boundaries for partisan advantage — has always occurred to some extent.

“Our gerrymandering problems are basically that when there are close decisions to be made and you could go either way, the Republicans will go their way, and we [Democrats] would go our way.”

There have been a couple preliminary maps that have been released by different politicians. But so far there has been little indication that the people of Michigan will have a say in the final map.

Grebner says gerrymandering will continue to dominate the process.

“The Republican’s are in a position where they can decide how far to push this, my guess is they’ll follow their own rules and they’ll just cheat in little ways.”

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