Kalamzoo Gazette
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Redistricting of Michigan legislative and Congressional boundaries must be transparent, group urges

By Paula M. Davis

KALAMAZOO A coalition of groups is calling for greater transparency in the process for drawing state and congressional legislative districts.

Leaders of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative contend that critical decisions setting the legislative boundaries are made largely outside of voter view and for the benefit of political parties.
"What we want to do is throw it open — put some sunshine on it," said Christina Kuo, spokeswoman for the collaborative, which includes the League of Women Voters of Michigan, AARP Michigan and ACLU of Michigan.

Kuo, Jessica Reiser, League of Women Voters of Michigan president and David Waymire of Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, met with the Kalamazoo Gazette Editorial Board on Wednesday.
Kuo said the Redistricting Collaborative has shopped around two bills — one for congressional districts and the other for state — they are confident some legislator or a group of legislators will take up.
They would:

• put data used to draw the maps on a website allowing for public view and comment.

• require four public hearings on the proposals (three outside of Lansing) that would be broadcast live online with transcripts, testimony and comments posted on the site.

• place any proposed map online 30 days prior to adoption with data on every district created showing its voting-age population and racial make-up, and a statement of how the public interest is be served by the configurations.

"We'd love to see more transparency and more community involvement in this because people are going to be living in these areas, in their districts, a lot longer than the politicians are going to be around," said Kuo, who is also executive director of Common Cause Michigan, one of the about three dozen groups in the coalition.
Based on state census data expected to be released this month, the Legislature must develop redistricting plans for congressional seats as well as for 110 state House and 38 state Senate seats.

The plan must be adopted by Nov. 1. Michigan law lays out the redistricting process for state legislative districts and congressional districts.

Ari Adler, press secretary of House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, noted that like any other bills in the Legislature, residents can provide testimony while the bills are in committee, track the progress of the legislation online and contact their senator and representative with their thoughts on a bill before adoption.

"Just like any other piece of legislation, it is an open, public process and we encourage people to participate," he said.   But Kuo said she is concerned that legislation will be rushed through, not allowing residents time enough to scrutinize bills, provide comment or attend a committee hearing in Lansing, for instance.

"They just have to do the 18-hour requirement to post that they are having a hearing," she said.
"We want them to have a very set process where people have time to look at (proposed district maps)," Kuo added. "We're asking that they be thoughtful about the process and not slam it through."

Kuo said that with a GOP-controlled House and Senate in Michigan the map is likely to lean Republican.
Waymire said that in Michigan there are few competitive districts because politicians have drawn legislative boundaries to create safe seats for their respective parties.

The lack of turnover between parties in a district is "not just coincidence. It's because of who controls the drawing of the districts," he said.
The coalition is also calling for similar public awareness and participation in the creation of county commission districts.

Contact Paula M. Davis at pdavis@kalamazoogazette.com or 269-388-8583.