Michigan's new House congressional map could create 7-6 split in favor of either party

Michigan’s new redistricting commission approved congressional and legislative maps Tuesday, ones that are fairer to Democrats than when the process was controlled by the Republican-led Legislature the past two decades.

The landmark votes capped months of work by the 13-member panel, which voters created to stop partisan gerrymandering.

"It really is a history-defining day. We’ve adopted fair maps that are fair to both parties and fair to the people of Michigan. That’s a big deal," said commissioner Anthony Eid, one of five members unaffiliated with neither major political party. The commission of citizens who were selected randomly following an application process also has four Democrats and four Republicans.

In the U.S. House delegation, there could be 7-6 splits in favor of either party if it is close statewide, with three highly competitive seats in the Grand Rapids, Lansing and Flint/Saginaw areas.

The battle for the majority in the state Senate, where the GOP has a 22-16 edge due to gerrymandering despite Democrat Gretchen Whitmer winning the governorship by nearly 10 points in 2018, will become much tighter.

Under the current map, Republicans would win an extra 15.2% of seats in a hypothetical tied election. Their edge drops to 2.8% under the new plan based on an analysis of 2016, 2018 and 2020 election data, according to PlanScore, a project of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The GOP has controlled the chamber for nearly 40 years.

The map for the state House, where Republicans have a 58-52 advantage, also will be fairer to Democrats. PlanScore projects a potential 56-54 GOP edge if Republicans get 49% of the vote.

"This shows that Michiganders can come together across party lines to defend democracy – an important lesson for our nation and a reason to celebrate," said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, which organized a 2018 ballot drive that amended the state constitution.

The maps will likely face a legal challenge from Black Democrats because the state would no longer have two majority-minority congressional seats in and around Detroit, and there would be fewer such seats in the Legislature. The commission’s attorneys say the federal Voting Rights Act requires that African American voters have an opportunity to elect their candidates of choice, not that there be districts where Blacks comprise more than 50% of the voting-age population. They account for about 44% of the population in both new U.S. House seats.

Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization, issued a statement before the vote calling the proposed maps up for consideration a "serious step backward, limiting the voice of African Americans and that is unacceptable."

Michigan Republican Party spokesperson Gustavo Portela said it was "evaluating all options to take steps necessary to defend the voices silenced by this commission."

The congressional map, which draws together several incumbents, led many to announce their plans.

Second-term Democratic Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township and Haley Stevens of Waterford Township will face off for the new, more Democratic 11th District in Oakland County — leaving open the Republican-leaning 10th in nearby Macomb County.

Fifth-term Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint will run in the competitive 8th District, while fourth-term Republican Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland will seek election in the Republican-heavy 2nd District to the west.

Second-term Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly will run for the competitive 7th District in the Lansing area. Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett is running, too.

Democratic state Rep. Shri Thanedar, a former gubernatorial candidate, said he will spend at least $5 million of his money to vie for the 13th District, which includes much of the Democratic stronghold of Detroit. It is currently represented by second-term Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

Fourth-term Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell will run in the Democratic-heavy 6th District in the Ann Arbor area, saying it includes 60% of her constituents but not her hometown of Dearborn.

In western Michigan, first-term Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids will seek the competitive 3rd District, which is bluer. GOP Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, in his 18th term, and Bill Huizenga of Holland Township, in his sixth, are now in the same Republican-leaning 4th District. Huizenga will run. Upton’s plan was not immediately known.

The votes Tuesday came nearly two months late due to a pandemic-related delay in census data. Commissioners, who resisted pressure from public commenters to revise the maps - potentially starting a new 45-day feedback period — said they wish they had had more time.

"Are they perfect? No. But we did the best job we could with the time and everything else we were given. We compromised," said Cynthia Orton, a Republican member.

Eight of 13 commissioners backed the congressional map, nine supported the state Senate map and 11 endorsed the state House map.