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Michigan redistricting commission faces challenges after three resignations

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC), the citizens panel that drew the state’s legislative boundaries for the 2023 elections, is undergoing a major change after three of its members resigned in the past week. The resignations come amid a potential legal battle over the validity of some of the districts, especially in the Detroit area.

Why did the commissioners resign?

The three commissioners who resigned are Dustin Witjes and MC Rothhorn, both affiliated with the Democratic Party, and Douglas Clark, affiliated with the Republican Party. They cited different reasons for their decisions to leave the commission.

  • Witjes said he had moved to Illinois to pursue a new career path and was no longer a registered or eligible voter in Michigan, as is required under the constitution for members of the redistricting commission.
  • Rothhorn said he was thankful to have served but wished to place the burden and joys of service with the next commission. He said he trusted another person with fresh legs and fresh reasoning would be able to do more democratic debate and drawing than his weary soul.
  • Clark said his health had seriously deteriorated and he needed additional support from his family. He had been living in California to receive help from his family for an undisclosed health issue, which raised questions about his eligibility to continue serving on the commission.

The resignations have left the commission with 10 members, four Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents.

How will the new commissioners be selected?

The Michigan Constitution requires that the three new commissioners are randomly selected from the pool of previous semi-finalists chosen in 2020. The pool consists of 200 applicants, 52 Democrats, 54 Republicans, and 94 independents.

The selection of the new commissioners will take place on a live stream on Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 3:30 p.m. The live stream will be available on the MICRC Facebook and YouTube pages.

Michigan redistricting commission faces challenges after three resignations

The new commissioners will have to fill the seats of the same party affiliation as the ones who resigned, meaning two Democrats and one Republican. They will also have to meet the eligibility criteria, such as being a registered voter in Michigan, not holding a partisan office, and not being related to a partisan officeholder.

This will be the third time that the MICRC has filled a commissioner seat since the commission’s inception in 2020.

What are the implications of the resignations for the redistricting process?

The resignations come at a critical time for the redistricting process, as the commission is facing a legal challenge over some of the districts it drew, especially in the Detroit area.

A federal three-judge panel ordered 13 Detroit area districts redrawn because they violated the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits the drawing of districts where race is the predominating factor. The judges said the commission had failed to justify why it split some communities of interest, such as Black Detroiters, and diluted their voting power.

The commission and the plaintiffs, a group of Black Detroiters who filed the lawsuit, have until Tuesday to submit briefs on how the redrawing process should proceed. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 5 in federal court in Kalamazoo.

The districts must be redrawn soon since Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office needs roughly four months to update the state’s qualified voter file with the new maps in time for the House primary filing deadline April 23.

The new commissioners will have to join the commission in the midst of this legal dispute and potentially vote on the revised maps.

How has the public reacted to the resignations?

The public reaction to the resignations has been mixed, with some expressing appreciation for the commissioners’ service and others expressing frustration and disappointment.

Some supporters of the commission praised the commissioners for their dedication and hard work, and wished them well in their future endeavors. They said the commission had done a commendable job in drawing fair and representative districts for the state.

Some critics of the commission questioned the timing and motives of the resignations, and accused the commissioners of abandoning their duty and undermining the public trust. They said the commission had failed to deliver on its promise of transparency and accountability, and had drawn flawed and partisan maps.

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