Redistribution of card projects violates voting rights law, says civil rights director

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Detroit – Draft cards from an independent constituency commission violate voting rights law, Michigan Department of Civil Rights executive director John Johnson Jr. said in a hearing Wednesday where most of the speakers were said the proposals do not give Detroit fair representation.

The proposed maps for the State House, State Senate and United States House do not preserve the ability for minority voters to have a voice in government, argued Johnson, who is member of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s cabinet.

“They dilute minority-majority constituencies and deprive a minority voter of the opportunity to elect legislative representatives who reflect their community and affect any significant opportunity to have an impact on public policy and law-making,” a- he declared.

Other commentators have argued that the maps proposed by the Michigan Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission diluted the voting power of Detroit residents by placing residents of the predominantly black city in districts with neighboring Oakland and Macomb suburbs. They urged commissioners to create majority black and majority Detroit resident districts to protect the ability of city residents to elect people who represent their needs.

“The only way to fully represent the Detroiters is to be here among the Detroiters,” said Tonjia Ray. “If we have a representation that looks like us, lives with us, that they understand what we are going through as Detroiters, they can be a better voice for us at the table when it comes to issues and concerns for us. as Detroiters. “

Take the example of northeast Detroit, said Denise Coats-Robinson, who lives in Southfield but has strong ties to the city’s northeast. The maps proposed by the commission would group it with the richest and whitest areas of Harper Woods and the suburb of Grosse Pointe.

“We don’t identify with Les Pointes at all,” said Coats-Robinson. “We identify more with Highland Park and Hamtramck. We have similar issues. We need a mapping of minorities, not what we have.”

The latest round of redistribution, led by legislative Republicans, created 17 minority-majority districts in Michigan but secured an overall GOP majority, critics say. The maps drawn by the commissioners contain zero. An expert working with the commission said a 40% minority district would be enough to elect candidates of color.

Groups including Democratic lawmakers, Detroit lawmakers and the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People arguedthis has led to maps that divide black communities, reduce their political power, and make it more difficult for them to elect black candidates and candidates from Detroit.

Detroit branch NAACP executive director Kamilia Landrum urged commissioners to consider cards submitted to them by the public instead.

“Black people fight for black people differently,” Landrum said. “Yes, we have allies in other communities, but … we don’t just need allies. We need people who represent us, have our experiences and understand us.”

State Senator Adam Hollier, D-Detroit and local advocates staged a pre-hearing rally to urge commissioners to reconsider their approach to Southeast Michigan.

“The commission has said time and again that it will listen, and it has shown a willingness and a willingness to listen,” Hollier said.

Michael Joseph of Oak Park, chairman of the Detroit chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, addressed the Michigan Redistribution Commission at the TCF Center in Detroit on Wednesday, October 20, 2021.

Wednesday’s hearing of the commission at the TCF Center was the first in a series it will host on the 22 draft maps it has proposed for the State House, State Senate and districts of Congress. Ten of the maps were developed collaboratively at meetings and 12 were drawn by individual commissioners. They will approve the cards by November 5 and then have another public comment period.

Commissioners said this month that voter turnout data could affect their final decisions on constituencies. Some commissioners defended the current set of cards, which they said were following the advice of their voting rights and partisan fairness experts.

Brittni Kellom, a Democratic constituency commissioner from Detroit, acknowledged the heated arguments. She said the commission faces many rigid criteria, such as ensuring that districts are equal in population, comply with voting rights law, are geographically contiguous and do not favor political parties.

Kellom pointed out that guidance commissioners received indicate that a 40% minority district is adequate. But she said she was encouraged to revisit the maps, especially “to go back and look at some neighborhoods, because Detroit is made up of neighborhoods, and see how we can keep them together and meet the criteria other than that. we have”.

Voters Not Politicians, the organization behind the proposed ballot that created the commission three years ago, criticized its approach to mapping in a statement released Tuesday.

Like some of those who spoke on Wednesday, the group cited an analysis of the maps by Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy & Social Research that the draft plans followed a “path unusual towards compliance with the voting rights law “and said commissioners are relying on incomplete data to determine that a 40% minority is sufficient to satisfy the voting rights law.

“We support the voices of community leaders and independent analysts who are raising serious concerns about the impact of current card projects and their compliance with voting rights law and creating real opportunities for minority communities in Canada. elect candidates, ”said Nancy Wang, executive director. voters not politicians.

Laura Misumi, executive director of Rising Voices, which advocates for Asian American women in Michigan, said she was also concerned about a slice of Hamtramck separating itself from the rest of the city, which has strong communities of immigrants from Bangladesh and Yemen.

Separating these blocs would mean that Asian American voters could not so easily stress issues that concern them, such as access to translation or promoting the teaching of Asian American history in schools, said Misumi.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us,” she said. “We think if we could just include this corner in House District 2, it would absolutely preserve the Asian American community of interest in Detroit and Hamtramck.”

Nikki Beccerra of southwest Detroit spoke as part of a group of Latino residents who asked commissioners to keep this part of town, as well as Ecorse, Lincoln Park and Melvindale together.

Michigan Redistribution Commission chair Rebecca Szetela gets a boost from MC Rothhorn, Democrat and commission vice-chair, as they chat while Independent Commissioner Steven Lett looks at his computer on Wednesday during a hearing in Detroit.

“We want to make sure that our community of interest, the areas surrounding the factories, the immigrant communities, the low income communities are unified so that we have more representation,” Beccerra said.

While it is essential that the cards accurately represent Detroit, James McNeal said it was a good step to have them reviewed by the public.

“I feel like I’m more likely to have an impact than [before, when we had] a few people behind a closed door saying ‘I’m going to share this cake,’ “he said.

ckthompson@detroitnews.com

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