The Role of Communities of Interest in Michigan's New Approach to Redistricting: Recommendations to the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission

August 2020
John Chamberlin, Alissa Graff, Sarah Gruen, Safiya Merchant, Nick Najor, Gerson Ramirez, James VanSteel

The Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) was launched at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in 2001 to provide public service to the people and communities of Michigan. Over the years, CLOSUP has approached that mission in a variety of ways, most fundamentally through the creation of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) program, an ongoing survey of the state’s local government leaders designed to increase government transparency and accountability and help improve policymaking in Michigan. The views of Michigan’s local government leaders, collected through the MPPS, contribute to the following report. Now, as our state embarks on a new approach to drawing political districts through an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, we at CLOSUP saw a need and opportunity to address at least one major new criteria in that process: the issue of “Communities of Interest” (COIs). While COIs are included in redistricting approaches in other states, this is a new concept in Michigan, and nowhere else do COIs play as key a role as they will here. By design, Michigan’s new redistricting approach makes COIs one of the highest priorities to be addressed by the Commission as it draws our new maps. Since the COI concept is both new and so central to Michigan’s new redistricting process, we launched the CLOSUP Michigan Redistricting project in partnership with the Michigan Department of State, to research best practices for how other states handle COIs in their redistricting efforts, to learn about the opportunities and potential challenges around these approaches, and to share these findings with Michigan’s new Commission. This report presents the lessons we have uncovered for how to approach COIs in Michigan’s case. At CLOSUP we’re grateful for the talented team of Ford School students who undertook this work, and for their dedicated project leader, Professor Emeritus John Chamberlin, who has spent a career working to improve the public sector in Michigan, and beyond. The students included Alissa Graff, Sarah Gruen, Safiya Merchant, Nick Najor, Gerson Ramirez, and James Vansteel. This team shared the common goal of helping make Michigan’s new experi-ence with redistricting as successful as possible. Our state is fortunate to have young leaders like these six students who wanted to help Michigan move toward a better future. We’re also grateful to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her team at the Michigan Department of State, who were eager to leverage the Ford School’s talent pool, and who we found to be equally dedicated to making sure Michigan’s new approach to redistricting is successful.