The ability to manipulate legislative districts to divide communities and dilute voter power to favor one party over another has plagued our state for decades. Despite the efforts by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, we have already seen groups trying to influence the process of redrawing legislative districts based on the population lost in our state through various legal challenges and political hurdles they have thrown in their way. With the need to reduce Michigan’s Congressional Districts and momentum building in support of voter suppression bills in the legislature, I am concerned that others will question the validity of the process around the citizen-led Commission.
In my experience in government as Chair of the Genesee County Commission, I have seen first-hand the impact redistricting has had in our county and on voters in underserved areas deprived of their rights for effective representation due to communities divided by fictitious lines on who represents who.
For example, in Northern Genesee County, the top half consisting of two levels of townships with the small towns of Flushing, Montrose, Clio, Mount Morris, Otisville, and Otter Lake is divided up into three different statehouse districts that stretch to the southern half of the county, with one gerrymandered into Oakland County. The elected representatives of all three districts live in the south half of Genesee County.
As an elected official, I knew how important it was to see my neighbors in the parks and grocery stores. I recently attended the Commission’s hearing in Genesee County. A significant theme that night was that they need to start from scratch and redraw the lines to keep communities together based on community, geography, and legislative interests.
Even if the Commission started from scratch, they would have to find a way to break up our county, but the issues we are concerned about in the county’s northern part are different from those in the southern half and very different than those in Oakland County. I hope the Commission considers community, culture, and our shared values in redrawing the lines. A district of farmers, for example, has different interests from the hipsters living downtown. No one benefits in that district for having common representation but for a political party.
While I am encouraged by the leadership of this Commission, I am concerned about the challenges they face. While it seems easy to draw continuous districts that don’t split up neighborhoods, I see politics and posturing getting in the way of progress. — Martin Cousineau, former Genesee County Commissioner, Flushing
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the redistricting process or to attend a commission hearing, visit mfbfoc.com/redistricting.