(To learn more about redistricting and safe or marginal seats, start here.)
By Constitutional requirement, political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years and use the most recent U.S. Census data. The next redistricting will take place using information from the 2020 census.
In most states, including Michigan, redistricting process, and the party that holds the most power calls the shots. By federal law, each district is to have a similar population and cannot discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Beyond that, there are few restrictions.
Ideally, political lines would be drawn so that people in the same community have the same representative or senator (contiguous) and so that neither Democrats or Republicans would have an undue advantage (competitive). And in areas where the populace is heavily for one party or the other anyway, this is often the case. Take a look at this example, Michigan’s 80th and 82nd House districts, which are both in heavily Republican areas. Note the regular, rectangular shapes that don’t cut through cities or other population centers.
But what happens in more contentious areas? The party redrawing districts will often carve up the geography in order to give themselves an advantage. The result is bizarrely shaped districts carefully designed to put a party that would normally have a competitive chance a disadvantage. Take a look at Michigan’s 76th House District, which is one of the most heavily gerrymandered political districts in the state.
Ironically, the 76th House District is almost a mirror image for the district that gave gerrymandering its name, the Massachusetts 1812 redistricting map, signed into law by then-Gov. Elbridge Gerry.
So what can be done?
Our next opportunity for redistricting is after the 2020 census, which makes the 2020 elections incredibly important. If any changes are to be made, we need a state legislature full of leaders who want to end political redistricting.
But that is not enough. While redrawing a map so that it heavily favors Democrats is an understandable wish, in truth, our democracy is best served by fair boundary lines for all.
Sound impossible? It isn’t. Some states, such as Arizona and Iowa, have adopted nonpartisan redistricting processes. Instead of being determined by politicians, in these states, the lines are drawn by nonpartisan boards that are tasked with drawing districts that are contiguous and competitive.
A similar proposal has been brought up in the Michigan legislature by Rep. Jon Hoadley (D) of Kalamazoo and Jeremy Moss (D) of Southfield. While the measure failed in the past session, it’s likely to be introduced again.