Chandler Crossings, a group of three student apartment complexes, is about three miles from Michigan State University in the Township of Bath.
Given its proximity to MSU and the ages of the people who live there, students may see the apartments as an extension of the college campus, according to Matt Grossmann, professor of political science at MSU.
But that link is not reflected in any political border, he said.
Citizens recognize their own shared communities.
The new Independent Citizens Constituency Commission, which will redesign electoral districts in Michigan following the 2020 U.S. Census, aims to keep shared communities together.
And they will need the public’s input to do so.
“Most people, even those who are politically active, may think they are not experts in redistribution. ” What I can bring ? Said Jowei Chen, professor of political science at the University of Michigan.
But the answer is – a lot.
The Commission itself will only have 13 members.
But people who want to see change where they live, make their voices heard and make sure their votes count can contribute to their work by drawing maps and giving their opinion in public meetings after the formation of the Commission in fall 2020.
Vote for change in Michigan
In November 2018, Michigan residents voted to amend the state‘s constitution and establish the Independent Citizens Redistribution Commission, an initiative to eliminate partisan gerrymandering.
The state currently has 14 congressional districts and 148 state districts. Previously, only the state legislature had been authorized to draw and redraw district boundaries, a process undertaken every 10 years after the U.S. census and led, historically, by the party in power at the time.
This will now be the job of the non-partisan, citizen-led commission.
The public will be able to help the Commission recognize shared communities of interest and their perceived limitations. Citizens will also be able to submit maps, and those map submissions will have the potential to become reality by 2022.
The new language added to the constitution actually requires that shared communities of interest stay together in the mapping process, but leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
But communities of shared interest include common characteristics: they are often physically connected geographically and have racial, social or economic interests. Communities can also be defined by the activities of those who live there, such as the students attending college.
In the past, shared communities have also been a target for partisan gerrymanders.
“Historically, you could look at minority populations who were divided by electoral districts to diminish their power,” said Jake Rollow, director of communications for the Michigan State Department.
Citizens have already mapped neighborhoods
Prior to being Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson demonstrated that anyone can do cards.
Hundreds of Michigan residents of all skill levels entered a contest that gave them the power to draw electoral districts in 2011. The Michigan Center for Election Law, the nonprofit Benson worked for, sponsored the competition.
The Michigan Citizen Redistribution Contest allowed participants to design their own redistribution maps for congressional or state legislative districts, and then submit them to non-partisan academics.
The winning 200-entry card was drawn by a Central Michigan University student named Nathan Inks.
His card included an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in each electoral district, so that no electoral district had a disproportionate advantage for a political party.
Benson discussed the contest and inks at MSU in early November when he announced that the state’s new independent Citizen Redistribution Commission was accepting applications from the public.
Tools for non-expert cartographers
Chen and students at UM’s School of Information are currently working on a website to make it easier than ever for the Commission to receive public comment on what constitutes a shared community of interest.
“The website portal will allow anyone in Michigan to go online and draw a map of their community, telling us what you think of your community,” Chen said for example.
The group started the project in early fall, but Chen envisions Michigan residents simply using their cursors to highlight or describe the boundaries of their shared communities, then click submit.
The submissions would then be sent to a central location where the Commission could access them, Chen said.
“The public then gives their opinion on the communities that should remain united. Hopefully (the website) will be up and running when the Commission is up and running, ”Chen added.
Additionally, the audience can practice creating maps by taking advantage of existing tools, such as Dave’s redistricting app.
Created by software engineer Dave Bradlee, the free app allows anyone to draw congressional districts and states using data from the 2010 U.S. Census.
Citizens do not need access to GIS software worth thousands of dollars to get involved in the redistribution process, nor experience to apply for the Commission.
Join the Commission
Last month, the Michigan State Department randomly sent out 250,000 nominations to Michigan voters, who can then run for the commission. Citizens can also apply online.
Only 13 residents will be chosen for the Commission.
These voters will be selected at random from a final sample representative of Michigan’s demographics and geography, but there is “no way to guarantee that the bottom 13 will be on par with the state’s demographics. “said Rollow.
The Commission will be required to hold 15 town halls across the state to hear from a diverse audience.
Meetings “have to be done before (the Commission) drafts a map. This is one of the ways to get the opinion of the public. (The meetings) could include mapping sessions, ”Rollow said.
But it’s up to the Commission to decide on the timing of the meetings and what will be discussed at the meetings.
The Michigan Secretary of State and State Department are only making the process easier, Rollow added.
“At some point it’s not up to us. (Jocelyn Benson) is known as a non-voting commissioner, ”explained Rollow. “We make sure the Commission has what it needs to do its job. “
How to apply to the Commission
To apply for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in Michigan, visit https://redistrictingapplication.sos.state.mi.us/
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