Date: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Setting boundaries: Redistricting process should be transparent

By Staff Writer

With release of the 2010 U.S. Census data, officials are gearing up to redraw political boundaries at the local, state and national levels.

The decennial process is inherently political, but that does not mean it cannot be open, allowing the public to participate in deciding how their congressional representatives, state legislators and local officials will be selected.

Numerous legal criteria apply to legislative redistricting, yet politicians inevitably seek to shape districts to their advantage. Such gerry-mandering can lead to political boundaries that make no sense other than to serve partisan or incumbent interests.

That is why it is important that voters be engaged in the process and hold officials accountable for the decisions they make.

A number of nonprofit organizations representing business, labor and civic interests have formed the Michigan Redistricting Coalition to advocate for a transparent redistricting process that encourages public involvement.

With Michigan being the only state to lose residents in the past decade, and with substantial population shifts within the state itself, this year's redistricting is particularly important. Not only are we losing a congressional district, but boundaries for many state legislative districts are likely to change significantly as well.

We as voters should be concerned that new political boundaries serve the public's interests, not those of politicians concerned about retaining their seats or political parties seeking to solidify their power.

In order for that to happen, the Michigan Redistricting Coalition wants redistricting to move through the legislative committee process, allowing residents to be fully informed about proposals and providing them opportunities to voice their opinions. The coalition supports legislation that would require redistricting plans to be posted on the Legislature's website at least 30 days before being voted on, and that both the House and Senate hold committee meetings and hearings to gather public testimony. In addition, the coalition wants legislative statements provided for each district, explaining how boundaries were drawn and the changes that were made.

We agree that such a process would best serve Michigan residents. Communities' mutual interests and geographical alignments should outweigh partisanship and incumbency when it comes to redrawing districts. Boundaries should ensure that voters pick the politicians who best serve their interests, rather than the other way around.

But unless the public demands to be actively involved and holds officials accountable, the redistricting process will be left in the hands of those most likely to shape it for their own gain.