In a final webinar in our redistricting series, a panel looks back on Michigan's new approach to redistricting by an independent citizens commission. November, 2022.
0:00:24.5 Tom Ivacko: Good evening, and thank you for joining us for tonight's event on Michigan's new approach to redistricting. I'm Tom Ivacko with the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, it's better known as CLOSUP, at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy, and it's my honor to kick off tonight's event. We have an outstanding panel of experts who will help us better understand how Michigan's new approach to redistricting and Michigan's new maps impacted the election season that has just concluded and which brought pretty dramatic change across the state of Michigan. But before I introduce our moderator to kick off the discussion, I want to thank tonight's co-sponsors. In addition to CLOSUP, the event tonight is co-sponsored by our good friends at Michigan State University's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, better known as IPPSR. The event is also co-sponsored by Voters Not Politicians, the extraordinary grassroots group that began with a single Facebook post calling for change, and which led to the 2018 voter approved ballot initiative that gave us the state's new approach to redistricting. The event tonight is also co-sponsored by the Ford School of Public Policy, by the program and practical policy engagement here at the school, by Gongwer News Service, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, and Detroit Public TV, all really just terrific organizations, great resources for our state, and we're grateful for their partnership.
0:01:50.3 TI: So with that, let me briefly introduce our moderator tonight, Matt Grossmann. Matt is professor of political science and public policy at Michigan State. He also serves as director of IPPSR. He's also a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center in Washington, DC. He's host of the Science of Politics podcast and a regular contributor to FiveThirtyEight's online political analysis. Matt is also author of numerous books, journal articles, op-eds, and leading sources like the New York Times and Washington Post and many others. And did I mention that Matt and his wife also recently opened a terrific new community gathering place in Lansing, Michigan called Hooked. It's a combination bookstore, coffee shop, wine bar, really a general gathering space for the community. If you're in the Lansing area, you should check it out. Lucky for us, the one thing that Matt doesn't do is sleep, and he graciously agreed to moderate tonight's event. We're very appreciative of that. Matt, thanks so much. Please take it away. We're looking forward to this discussion.
0:03:02.4 Matt Grossmann: Wow, thanks, Tom, and good evening, everyone. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State have partnered to aid the successful redistricting process. We had Michigan and Michigan State faculty working together to train and guide the commission and Michigan and Michigan State students working together to help the commission with their public comment process. I wanna join Tom in thanking tonight's sponsor, and I'd also like to thank the Joyce Foundation for their support of our work in this effort. This first time process has been an opportunity to try out a new approach to redistricting to draw fairer maps, and tonight we review how Michigan did. We'll have 35 minutes for remarks from our presenters, and then we'll have about 50 minutes for questions, including those submitted when you signed up and those that come to mind as you're watching tonight. After a few opening remarks from me, we'll begin with Nancy Wang, Executive Director of Voters Not Politicians. She'll give an overview and retrospective of the state's new redistricting process. Then Zach Gorchow, Executive Director and Publisher at Gongwer News Service of Michigan, is going to discuss the impacts of the new districts on the primaries and general elections, the candidate decisions, the fundraising, and the dynamics.
0:04:17.4 MG: Then Moon Duchin of Tufts University's MGGG Redistricting Lab will follow and discuss the overall performance of the new maps and how the process compares to other states. You can find full biographies of the presenters at closup.umich.edu, and that's the same place that you will find a recording of tonight's webinar and our previous webinars, including several on redistricting, as well as additional resources submitted by the panelists. So we encourage you to engage and ask more questions. You can do that in the YouTube chat box, in the Facebook chat, or you can tweet your questions to #policytalks. Our partners from Voters Not Politicians will also help answer some of those questions directly in the live chat. Now I wanted to open the conversation with what I see as the clearest successes and failures of the new maps. Despite a lot of local criticisms, Michigan's experience is now seen as a national model. On the positive side, the Michigan maps replaced maps that were drawn to benefit the party that drew them with maps designed to reflect statewide voting. Under the old maps, Republicans only had to win districts with a built-in advantage of more Republicans living there to gain a majority in both state legislative chambers.
0:05:39.4 MG: Under the new maps, the parties have to compete over districts with minimal partisan lean, as well as those that have more normally Republican voters and those that have more normally Democratic voters. This produced a real change. If you add up all the votes statewide for the House and the Senate, Democrats got more votes by 1 and 1.5% in the two chambers, and they will end up with similarly small advantages in seats. That wasn't the case over the last few cycles. Even when parties got a similar share of statewide votes, they didn't get that share of seats. And it wasn't true elsewhere, including our neighboring states. In fact, we're sort of the only state, this cycle where reform really moved the needle from gerrymandering to partisan ballots. Now, the Commission had to work hard to make that happen because Democrats are more geographically concentrated than Republicans in Michigan. In the results, you can see a lot of land area that is red, even though most voters live in the blue parts of the state. In the Senate, Democrats won a contiguous area going from most of metropolitan Detroit to Lansing and Flint, plus three other urban seats. In the House, Democrats won a similar area as the Senate, plus four other smaller city districts.
0:07:00.7 MG: The maps allowed the statewide vote to match the seat count. The biggest concern with the maps performance this year, definitely reflected in the questions that we received, was about the distribution of Michigan's Black population and the failure to elect Black candidates. And you can see that the Commission drew lots of skinny districts moving in and out of Detroit and its inner suburbs. The Commission pursued a Voting Rights Act compliance strategy directed by its lawyers to spread African-American voters into districts with about 40-45% Black population, rather than a smaller number of districts with a majority Black population. They said that that would lead to Black preferred candidates winning in these districts of opportunity. And that did clearly happen in at least one case where Kimberly Edwards beat an incumbent by surprise in one of the eight mile crossing House districts in the primary. But overall, Black representation will be down in the Senate and stable in the House and Congress, and Detroit Black representation in particular does seem to be suffering. Now in some districts, Black candidates chose not to run or didn't make the ballot. In others, they split the vote or faced more experienced or well known alternatives. And in defense of the Commission, they were trying to enable Black voters preferred candidates regardless of the candidates race.
0:08:24.8 MG: So there may be districts where Black preferred but non Black candidates won. And things may change over the next few election cycles as candidates make different strategic decisions about where to enter. But since this is the place that the Commission received the most negative public comments, as well as copious expert commentary, including from our panelists and prior forms and reports, some of which predicted a similar outcome, I'm not inclined to be as sympathetic here. The Commission's lawyers correctly told them that they did not need majority minority districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they incorrectly told them that their specific alternative approach was required rather than just allowed. And the lawyers even held a private meeting with the Commissioners to tell them that they were right and the critics were wrong, which didn't turn out to be a good sign. Unfortunately, some might perceive the success of the Commission as tied to this potential failure, that perhaps we couldn't get fair maps without undermining Black representation in Detroit.
0:09:28.0 MG: I don't think that's true. Most of this strategy just moved Black voters in with White Democrats without changing the partisan balance. And it wasn't necessary. I think the Commission just didn't heed the warnings on the advice of its lawyers. So I think we can learn from Michigan's failures while acknowledging our successes. And that's what we're here to do today. But those are just my initial impressions. So with that, I want to move to our panelists, starting with Nancy Wang of Voters Not Politicians, the source of the new reformed redistricting process.
0:10:05.4 Nancy Wang: Thank you so much, Matt. I'm really excited to be here. I've had an opportunity now to look back on what's been a six year journey and really thrilled to be on the other side of this with our first elections with our new fair maps. I do have a few slides and I know that we're gonna have a really active Q&A, which is great. And I'm just going to go over a few things with the first slide, Bonnie. So let's fix that. Just taking a very quick look at where we started and what compelled volunteers all over the state to want to take action and to take extraordinary action like bringing a constitutional amendment before the voters. And then secondly, how power of the people is really that kind of encapsulates what this whole movement and the amendment and the process is all about. A model for the country. We now have been asked by activists in other states of what we thought were our secrets to success. And I'll talk a little bit about that. And then wrapping up with what's next, both in redistricting in Michigan and then also for Voters Not Politicians.
0:11:16.7 NW: So starting with let's fix that. This is from some of our signs to grab people's attention when we're trying to get some momentum and to recruit more volunteers. We would say, "Your vote doesn't count. Let's fix that. Politicians don't listen to you. Let's fix that." And because this is where we were in 2016 when a few of us got together over Facebook and over the phone to try to figure out how we can fix this situation that we were in where we were one of the three most gerrymandered states in the entire country where our politicians were very clearly not listening to us. And Michigan was just one of the, we were like a poster child for Project Red Map and what happens when your politicians really have no shame in trying to grab as much power as you can. So as a voter and as an early volunteer, one of the things that really resonated with me and then with other people as we brought them along is just the shamelessness, the kind of disdain for the voter, the kind of cynicism that went into gerrymandering and then also the extent, the extent which we had election after election where the outcomes had nothing to do with how the voters were voting.
0:12:39.4 NW: And then the next slide is, these are election results. They tell you what party got more votes or more seats, but overall, this is the result, regardless of who actually won that we wanted to see in terms of fairness. We wanted to see a different process by which we could take all the people out who had a vested interest, a conflict of interest in a certain outcome and replace it so that we could have a chance of voting for who we wanted to actually occupy that office. And then so, getting into, I think the bulk of it for me and why I'm here is I wanted to talk about the people power part of it with the next slide. This thing about power to the people, it runs through every part of this whole journey for us. It's about, it describes how we all came together and use the power, the only power that we had to override what our legislators were doing by taking the initiative and putting an amendment, a constitutional amendment on the ballot. We were everyday voters, thousands of us going door-to-door, going town hall to town hall, just trying to talk to as many people as we can to say, if enough of us get together, we can actually fix this. We can change it. And what we can do is put together what we ended up putting together and what is in place for Michigan right now.
0:14:14.9 NW: And that is a commission that is about people, people literally holding the pen, people being the kind of critical ingredient for a process that works. The commission right now, it can't draw maps without community input. It needs to know from testimony from the public about where it can draw the maps. And it can only draw lines that are supported by the testimonials that it got. Anyone that can serve on the commission, that was a deliberate choice because this is about, again, the people replacing the politicians that used to do this redistricting behind closed doors. And we made a very conscious decision to make it so that anyone could serve regardless of whether you are qualified, you have certain skill sets or not, as long as you wanted to serve the people and to vow to undertake a process that was fair and impartial and transparent. And that's what we saw. And that's what we were able to put in place, which really is remarkable. And of course, so the question that we often get is, do you think this is successful? And it's an emphatic yes. And I say that with the utmost humility. This is not a perfect process. It's not perfect maps. People have concerns and they're very real, like Matt kind of described earlier. But at the same time, we people were able in Michigan to turn the tide, we ended gerrymandering forever. And we took back the power in our hands to determine who holds office in our state forever.
0:16:00.8 NW: So our goals in the beginning of this journey, when we formed Voters Not Politicians, where we wanted a functional process that was run and led by voters, we wanted a lot of public participation that would be kind of centering the whole process and the map drawing process around people's input. And we wanted a process, of course, that produced maps, which this did, which produced a fair maps, which this process also did. And we wanted to make sure by incorporating overlapping multiple safeguards that this constitutional amendment would be resilient and enduring. Because we knew, as happened, that the minute we tried to grab power away from politicians and special interests and those with deep pockets, that we would immediately be challenged every single step of the way. And we were able to get on the ballot, we were able to get ourselves to run a successful campaign to win 61% of the vote. But we also then had to overcome legal challenges to the amendment language. And that continued even after the maps were passed. And this amendment has withstood all the challenges. The process will endure for the state of Michigan so that we do not return to partisan gerrymandering.
0:17:20.0 NW: And then, we are being asked by other states, activists in other states, in... Well, we actually advised also some people that were advising the New Jersey Commission this last redistricting cycle. We have been asked by activists in North Carolina, for example, also people in the city level, city of San Francisco, for example, what kinds of things would, should they be considering as they put together their process. And for us, the top three are definitely determining who has power. And that has to be people, it has to be truly independent away from politicians. There can't be any compromise to that. It can't be a hybrid model of politicians and voters. We've learned in the history of our state that we cannot have... We can't risk the integrity of the commission and the productivity of actually producing fair maps by allowing politicians and special interests in with, you know, with the ability to derail everything and to manipulate our process towards their ends. Ranked criteria, that was essential. You, and this is partly... You give the power to the people, to the commission, but you also don't let the commission do whatever it wants.
0:18:45.4 NW: And so the commission is very, very constrained by the amendment language to, for example, comply with a very certain, very specific set of criteria in a ranked order. And that is essential to making this process work while you have some discretion in a commission, but also making sure that really the values that go into the amendment trump at the end of the day.
0:19:08.6 NW: And then, absolute transparency, because we need, this is a people's process. We need to know what's happening, who's making the decisions and why. As for surprises in this journey, one thing that was not a surprise was that the process actually worked and it produced maps. We wanted to put people in charge. We knew at some point you have to trust people. So we had random selection, but we ended up with 13 people who came in good faith. They wanted to oversee a fair and impartial process. They knew what their job was and they got it done. Surprises were the actual outcomes. We wanted a neutral, kind of process that doesn't give anyone any unfair advantage, but we didn't think that that would necessarily mean that one party would get a trifecta, for example, like the Democrats did. And really people have been asking, "Well, is this what you foresaw? Is this what you were trying to do?" And we stopped at the process. So what we wanted to see is actually what happened, which was a fair in terms of measures of partisan fairness, but the actual outcome of who holds powers and both chambers and legislature was a surprise. And then finally, more work to do is we need to have a conversation. We need to continue talking about these things and how we can improve the process. And we need to do that continuously until the next redistricting cycle.
0:20:46.7 NW: So finally, going back to the next slide, this is about taking power back for the people. This is what we set out to do and what we did. And to that point, it's really been a remarkable transformational effort that's all for the good of the state of Michigan. And then actually to the final slide now. [chuckle] VMP, we're a ballot question committee. Usually we don't... These things don't survive beyond the campaign. We are still volunteer driven. We have thousands of volunteers still who want to step up and work towards a better democracy for voters. And now, so we've added tools to our toolbox. We have the C4 that can lobby legislatively for pro-democracy policies. We have a C3 for education. We have a PAC to make sure that we are electing people that will uphold our democracy. And then lastly, we have a ballot question committee still so that we know that we can spearhead a future initiative should we have to take matters into our own hands. Thanks.
0:22:00.5 MG: Thanks, Nancy. It's quite an amazing journey that you've taken us on and been on. Next, we have Zach Gorchow, who is the executive editor and publisher of Gongwer News Service, Michigan, and has been watching the latest election and all these races very closely. Zach?
0:22:16.3 Zach Gorchow: Well, thanks, Matt, and good evening, everybody. It's good to be with you. So I'm going to discuss a little bit about the domino effect that started in the actual elections once the commission approved the maps for the legislature at the end of December 2021. One of the most critical new criteria in the constitutional amendment from 2018 was that the commission cannot take incumbency into factor when it's drawing the map. So it can't advantage incumbents and it can't disadvantage them. And that's very different from what happened in the 2001 and 2011 remappings done by the legislature where Republican incumbents in particular were protected in how the maps were drawn. This domino effect kicked off with a number of legislators drawn into the same district. You think about Mallory McMorrow and Marshall Bullock in the Royal Oak, Detroit area were drawn together and they ended up facing off in a primary. But a lot of legislators ended up moving to avoid these kinds of things.
0:23:22.5 ZG: So Senator Rosemary Bayer moved from Beverly Hills to Keego Harbor to avoid that Bullock, McMorrow primary. You had Kim LaSata down in the southwest part of the state moved down to Niles. She had been in Northern Berrien County to avoid a primary with Aric Nesbitt. John Bizon was eligible for re-election and into his district was drawn state representative Tom Albert. Senator Bizon who had some legal troubles ended up not running again because of how that was drawn. In the past you would never have seen a situation, like that for an incumbent Republican senator. Up here in the Lansing area, everyone was expecting a big Democratic primary between Sam Singh who had represented East Lansing in the state house and Sarah Anthony who represented Lansing in the house. The commission ended up splitting them up. Most of Lansing got drawn in with Eaton County which is essentially the western suburbs of Lansing and southern Ingham County. And East Lansing got drawn in with areas to the north and east. So this ended up with both of them getting elected to the Senate. And another state senator, a Republican named Tom Barrett who was in Eaton County basically was drawn out of his seat and ended up running for Congress and lost narrowly to Elissa Slotkin.
0:24:47.0 ZG: Another interesting one was a primary that drew state senators Ruth Johnson from northern Oakland County and Doug Wozniak from northern Macomb County together. Senator Wozniak had just arrived in the Senate via special election and he had no interest it appears in trying to take on Senator Johnson in a Republican primary. He ended up running for the house again and knocked out the person who succeeded him in the house in a special election. So a really unusual situation there. Another one that was pretty interesting, state Senator Jon Bumstead who lived in Newaygo was drawn into the same district as Senator Rick Outman from Six Lakes in the western part of the state. Senator Bumstead ended up moving to Muskegon County. That, however, put him in the same district as Senator Curt VanderWall from Ludington. Senator VanderWall looked at this, saw that the numbers favored Senator Bumstead. Senator VanderWall decided to run for the house instead. And there's a whole slew of those kinds of decisions where incumbents had to make hard decisions that they would not have had to do in the past trying to avoid running against other incumbents. In fact, the only incumbent versus incumbent races we ended up with were the Mallory McMorrow, Marshall Bullock race I mentioned earlier.
0:26:08.0 ZG: There would have been one between Tyrone Carter and Cynthia Johnson in Detroit, but Representative Johnson, and that was for the house, was disqualified from the ballot. And then we also had Andrew Beeler and Gary Eisen and two Republicans in the thumb area were drawn together and faced off and did face off in a Republican primary. But over and over again, people moved. And some incumbents lost their seats as a result of the way districts were drawn. I kind of came up with, I guess you could say six incumbents who were most harmed. I mean, no one has a right to a seat, so I don't want to overstate it. But in terms of their future, were harmed from running reelection. So you had Alex Garza had represented a solidly Democratic district in the state house and Taylor, Romulus basically lost almost his whole seat. It turned into a mostly Monroe County seat and he lost in the general election to a Republican. Rodney Wakeman, a Republican from Saginaw Township, saw his district drawn in with the city of Saginaw, a solidly Democratic area. First he decided to run for the Senate, then seeing that probably wasn't going to work out, moved and ran for a totally different state house seat and lost in a landslide to a newcomer named Matthew Bierlein.
0:27:25.3 ZG: Jack O'Malley lost most of his district in redistricting, ended up losing to Betsy Coffia, a Democrat who's going to represent Traverse City in Leelanau County. First time a Democrat's represented that area in modern times. Senator Michael McDonald had a pretty safe Republican district in Macomb County. The commission very deliberately drew this differently where instead of getting safe Republican turf in places like Macomb Township, Sterling Heights, got drawn south into Democratic areas like East Point and even a little bit of Detroit, he ended up losing to Veronica Klinefelt, a seat that was very critical to the Senate Democrats winning majority. And then the other one, Matt Grossman mentioned earlier, Richard Steenland, a state representative from southern Macomb County, ended up losing to Kimberly Edwards. Now I think you could say Steenland took this race completely for granted. It wasn't just redistricting that did him in, but he did win the Macomb part of the seat, albeit narrowly, and it was the Detroit portion that put Representative Elect Edwards over the top. I want to give just a couple of quick comments here before I pass it back to Matt. He wanted me to mention the fundraising aspect of all of this with redistricting.
0:28:42.9 ZG: And the big impact really is it's going to mean more money is needed in state legislative campaigns because there are more competitive districts in both the House and Senate by a lot, especially in the House. And that means it takes more money. One thing we saw that was really interesting this year, especially on the House side, candidates struggling to raise money. There's just only so much money out there available. And we saw in some potentially competitive seats, candidates struggling to raise much of anything. And so it really turned into especially the Democrats were able to parlay to their advantage national money coming in and overwhelmed the Republicans with millions and millions of dollars in outstate spending. This redistricting process put Michigan on the radar nationally as a flippable legislature. We saw unbelievable sums of money sent into Michigan. So I suppose if you're not a fan of money in politics, thinks we need to get money out of politics, that's probably not going to be an outcome of this. There's gonna be more money needed for parties to try to win control of the legislature. And then the other thing I wanted to get at very quickly too was the big question about racial composition of the legislature that Matt talked about earlier.
0:30:07.0 ZG: Clearly in the Senate, there's a pretty significant change going from five Black senators down to three in the next term. And that is concerned a number of people. Though if you look at the overall minority representation in the Senate, it actually will go up from six people of color to seven in the next term because there are going to be two Latino members. There are none now. You're going to have an Indian American member and there's none now. So that is worth noting as well. In the House, things are pretty stable, as Matt said, going from 15 Black representatives down to 14. The number of people of color actually drops from 23-18, but it's mostly because you're seeing fewer Indian Americans and fewer Latinos in the next House than we have this time. I think if there's a concern, it's got to be that the number of senators from Detroit is going to drop quite severely from five to two. And so I think that's going to have to be something that maybe gets looked at, that there's just so much of Detroit that is now going to be represented by suburbanites and how does that come into play.
0:31:15.4 MG: Thanks, Zach. Hopefully people that are interested in state politics know about Gongwer and they have a Michigan Elections app where you can follow all of these races closely, as I know Zach will continue to be doing. Next, I'd like to welcome Moon Duchin, who is from Tufts University's MGGG Redistricting Lab and is also the leader of the district software that we use to help train the Commission and was involved in, created the system for public submitted maps for Michigan's Redistricting Commission. Moon?
0:31:58.5 Moon Duchin: Hi. Just making sure you can hear me and that you can see my full screen slides.
0:32:03.3 MG: We can hear you.
0:32:06.2 MD: All right, excellent. Okay, hi. As Matt said, I'm Moon Duchin and I'm going to just give some introductory comments here, but I hope that some of this comes back when we move to questions. So first of all, let's talk overall performance. You're certainly hearing lots of victory laps to do with how the election turned out and a lot of that has to do with the partisan balance. It was one of the goals of the new Commission to use procedural fairness, in other words, like a transparent process, everything streamed, lots of visibility and produce maps that would give a closer correspondence from voter preferences to the delegations. And for Congress, for example, here are the numbers. If you count up over all the districts, the congressional votes to Republicans were 2,083,000 in some and for Democratic candidates, 2,184,000 in some. So that is very close. That's an advantage of 51.2-48.8 among the major party votes. And one thing I wanna point out before we look at how that turned out is how closely that corresponds to the 2020 election at the presidential level, which went 51.4-48.6.
0:33:31.5 MD: That's the kind of thing that makes line drawers look great because when you have past elections, that's what you're using to try to gauge how a map is going to perform in a partisan way. And if your new voting pattern looks a lot like some of the ones that you're using to benchmark against, you look great because you've kind of calibrated successfully. So here's how that played out. That nearly even voting gave the outcomes that you saw on Nancy's slide from earlier, 7, 6, 2018 and 56, 54. And here's that tweet that she showed from Umich voter showing you just how closely that corresponds to a proportional outcome. Okay. So this looks great. Now, how does this compare to other states? Let me very briefly address. First of all, not very many states had an explicit mandate to even aim at partisan fairness, but some did. And let's take a quick tour through how that might've worked out. As you heard, Ohio was a bit of a mess, a bit of a meltdown in this cycle. What you may not know is that Ohio is actually the only state in the whole country where the state constitution instructs line drawers to seek proportionality.
0:34:50.2 MD: What happened in Ohio at this time is just that the line drawers, which were a politician commission declined to do so, got in a fight with the court. That fight is still ongoing. So that didn't work out as well. Wisconsin, a lot of different people drew plans in Wisconsin, including a people's maps commission that was kind of a shadow commission created from citizens much like the Michigan commission, but without the power that the Michigan commission has. And they use partisan fairness criteria to put some plans on the table. But by the time the case around gerrymandering, around redistricting in Wisconsin was heard by the state Supreme court, the court said, we don't wanna hear about partisan fairness. We want a least change map, a map that's most like the old map. And that's what they got. In Pennsylvania and North Carolina, plans went before courts and courts did weigh partisan fairness criteria fairly heavily in those two states. And the results were... Again, by the lights of proportionality, the results were quite good. Again, nine Democrats and eight Republicans in Pennsylvania in a close but slightly democratic leaning year and an even seven seven split in North Carolina for a map selected by the court.
0:36:04.5 MD: Now, New York is a state you might've been hearing about in a different way. The court commissioned a map and it didn't turn out as folks expected. There was an explicit effort to create competitive and partisan fair districts, but the outcome was sort of surprising with Democrats falling maybe five or five or more seats short of expectations. But there's a reason for that. And it's not the map. It's again, how people voted. So whereas in Michigan, as we saw the vote in the congressional elections tracked with the Biden Trump vote to within, a decimal place, the, that wasn't true at all in New York where democratic candidates fell short of a Biden's share across the districts and amounts ranging from 2%-10%. So this is just a really good reminder for us that it's very easy to judge a map just by what happens in the next election. But that is to forget that we all have agency as voters and voters sometimes behave predictably and sometimes surprise you. And so this is... I'll come back to this when we talk a little bit about racial fairness, but this is something to keep in mind is that line drawers aren't omniscient. They're trying to make educated guesses about voting behavior for a 10 year span into the future, which is a very difficult thing to do.
0:37:27.6 MD: And when you're trying to analyze how a map performed, you also need to think about the voting input that went into it and whether it's tracks with what might've been expected by the line drawers. I have a few more minutes. Let me say a few things about communities of interest, and then I'll talk about racial fairness a little bit. So as you heard... Oh, actually, and before I go on, I should really say when I was talking about all this, how this compares. So I'm a professor of math as you heard in the introduction and I run a redistricting lab, but I've also done a lot of consulting and kind of expert work around the country. And so in many of these states, I was involved in some way in the process, such as by advising the Wisconsin People's Maps Commission and doing expert work in litigation in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina. So please feel free to ask me about that in the questions if anybody wants to hear more, but full disclosure, I had some hand in some of what we heard about on the last slide. Okay. So communities of interest. So it's actually a requirement in Michigan's state constitution that redistricting take... Per amendment that created the commission that redistricting take communities of interest into account. And so the question is, what do we mean by that? How do we find communities on the ground where people have shared interests?
0:38:41.9 MD: And what should it look like for the line drawers to pay attention to that? So my lab was contracted by the Michigan Department of State to collect public input. And we set up a online portal so that people could either write written testimony or they could describe their neighborhoods or the regions of the state that were of particular salience for them. And they could say why those are communities, why what they have in common, what shared interests they have. And this worked unbelievably well, whereas in many other processes, you might get a few dozen maps submitted by the public, we got thousands. So in the end, what our lab did was we took those and we synthesize them into regional clusters. I think in the end, the numbers were over 1500 maps that we synthesized into clusters. And you see in this picture that I've included on this slide, an example of kind of a heat map showing you where people's comments were in this area of the state and trying to understand what they had to say. So within each cluster, we used kind of language processing to summarize the public comments and say what it is that people are talking about, not just where are they, but what are they saying? This was slow and challenging, and so all of that feedback that we collected from the public was available to the commission. And they did discuss a lot of those publicly submitted community maps when they drew their lines.
0:40:16.4 MD: But it's of course difficult to track exactly how to take just that much testimony into account. I have a lot more to say about this, but this was an experiment in using technology to better listen to public input to make it more operational, something that you can get your hands on. And these slides will be available for anyone who wants to see, but I put up a number of links on the slide that you can check out. The first one, Michigan mapping is the portal and you can see we've kept the gallery up so you can see what folks had to say. The second one, Michigan COI is our final report summarizing the themes and heat maps. Aggregating community maps is a peer reviewed scholarly paper that my lab and collaborators wrote about how to do this kind of thing. And then finally, you can go to districter.org, which is the software that we use to let people draw maps, go to Michigan, and you'll see a communities tab expand. And if we have time later, I'll show you how to use that so that you can see people's public input while you draw your own lines.
0:41:19.3 MD: Finally, I have about a minute left, I think, let me say something about racial fairness. So there's this big elephant in the room when it comes to, as I said, the kind of the victory laps that are being taken about the performance of the commission, which is people wonder very much whether Black voters had an effective opportunity to elect their candidates of choice in Michigan this cycle. And so to get at that question, you have to really think about what racial fairness looks like. And in particular, there's this powerful law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And we have to think about we as folks assessing the success of the commission, but also the commission had to think about what does the VRA require? Okay, so I just want to present one big myth, I think, about both questions. What is racial fairness? What does the VRA require? That keys to majority and minority districts. So I've seen a lot of hot takes in the press that are talking about the reduction nationally in the number of majority minority districts around many states. And using that as a barometer of minority opportunity, but it's really important to remember that majority minority districts, while they do have a certain role in the legal framework, are not the be all and end all of electoral opportunity.
0:42:45.2 MD: Instead, compliant districts by the lights of the VRA are judged by what I keep calling an opportunity to elect. And that asks the question, if a racial group, in this case, Black voters in Michigan, have some of the same preferences, can those preferences be converted into representation? So one knock that I've heard on the commission's at least early efforts in drafting maps is that they behaved very much as though they were trying to get districts in between 40 and 50% Black voting age population rather than shooting for majority districts. But part of the problem is that not much primary data was available to the commission. And that's partly because there were very few contested primaries in Michigan in the last 10 years, actually, when it comes to statewide races, and partly due to other challenges to do with getting the data together. Without primary data, it's very hard to know whether preferred candidates of Black voters or any other group will be able to even get through to general elections. That is just one way in which something like a 40-50% rule fails to account for candidate dynamics. The other big issue is that, of course, if you don't know who's going to run, you're flying blind.
0:44:05.4 MD: And so I'll just point out that in particular, the way you can see this in Michigan is that we have plurality elections when it comes to Congress. Whoever gets the most votes wins. And in primaries, especially, this can create massive potential for vote splitting. Okay, so I'll just close by showing you some pictures. So here are some of the early proposed plans that were being considered by the commission. And I'm showing you how much Black voting age percentage is in each district. This is the congressional map. And you see how those two highest districts at the end have all those colored dots between 40 and 50%. So that's the congressional map. Here's the state senate map. You see all those between 40 and 50%. And here's the House map, right, showing the top number of districts. So you can see that it looks very much like that was the goal. And while that may be enough, in some contexts, it just super depends on who runs. And so, of course, as we know, the 13th district was the subject of much attention. Here's a New York Times piece, why a Black democratic city won't have a Black democrat in the house.
0:45:15.0 MD: And note that the caption to the image says that Thanedar beat eight Black candidates in the Democratic primary. Here are the outcomes from the Democratic primary. So in other words, we elected this candidate with 28% of the vote. So this is a feature of how we vote and not just a feature of how the districts are tuned. And it's something to consider if we think about vote reforms into the future. Okay, I'll stop there.
0:45:49.3 MG: Thank you so much, Moon, and thanks to our panel. As a reminder, the audience can still submit questions to the YouTube and Facebook chats and on Twitter using the hashtag policy talks. Now time for the questions from the audience, including those that were submitted when people registered. I'll start with Nancy, we got a question from a commissioner, from Commissioner Doug Clark, asking whether the congressional state Senate and state house districts provided a better level of partisan fairness than the previous district. Is it fair to take the victory lab at least when it comes to partisan fairness?
0:46:28.9 NW: Well, absolutely. I mean, you guys, you know, like the very specific, numerical values, but we went again from having some of the worst measures of partisan fairness to some of the best, right? I saw that there was analysis of Michigan's congressional maps this time, and there was a 0% efficiency gap. Again, that's not the only test. That doesn't tell you the full picture, but absolutely. I think there's no question that voters had a chance to make their voices heard. Their votes mattered, and they determined who actually won the races, and that's partisan fairness.
0:47:14.7 MG: Now Moon, you raised some potential concerns about whether this would last for the full 10 years and maybe some, thinking about some of the alternative measures that we were presenting with the commission. Is it fair to declare it a success, at least on this metric?
0:47:30.8 MD: Well, I would just go back to the point that I raised earlier on in my comments, which is when you think about the outcomes of an election in terms of who holds the seats, it matters not only where the lines are, but also how people vote. So yes, I think this election turned out great. I also think based on research that I've done, that if you have a map that has good proportionality properties for a few years, it's likely to last. So proportionality is a kind of sticky property, which is a good thing here. It doesn't tend to just come and then disappear. On the other hand, there's a whole, there are 30 plus measures of district shape in the literature and there are 20 plus measures of partisan fairness in the literature, lots of ways to measure it. The commission this time brought in an expert, Lisa Hamley, who did some partisan fairness analysis and used a bunch of different metrics, lopsided margins, mean, median, efficiency gap, and looked at proportionality as well. These are all great, but a big question we often forget to ask is what voting pattern was assumed, right?
0:48:45.5 MD: And in this instance, Michigan voters, you did your part not only by turning out to vote, but also you made the commission look good by voting in ways that are consonant with Michigan voting history. So one thing to... There's two sides to this coin. One thing to remember is gerrymandering is a huge problem, but voters can overcome gerrymanders, at least in principle, by turning out to vote in unexpected ways. Wave voting can overcome gerrymanders. And just in the same way, voting behavior can also make plans look good or look bad. So yes, I do think that the process here was really healthy, was really transparent, and it came out looking good, but I just want us all to recognize there's also some luck in that voters behaved in a way that cooperated.
0:49:36.5 MG: Now, Zach, Republicans raised quite a few objections during the process that the commission was kind of going, had to go out of its way to draw districts that would be as favorable to Democrats as these were, even if they were not biased toward the Democrats. We got pretty close proportional results here. Are there any remaining objections from the right or have some of those gone away with the results?
0:50:02.4 ZG: Well, I was moderating a panel recently where a person in the Michigan Republican Party still said the districts were, I think, ridiculous, is how they put it. And obviously, the districts do look a lot different just from a visual look than they used to. Municipal and county lines used to reign supreme, and that's not the case anymore. So you think of the 38th House District down in the southwest part of the state that looks like a staircase up the lake shore, it does look different. But I would definitely disagree with my opinion with friends on the Republican side who would say this was a gerrymander. I mean, if you want to see a Democratic gerrymander, I suggest taking a trip down I-94 to Illinois. That's a Democratic gerrymander. If you want to see a Republican gerrymander, head south on I-75 to Ohio. Those are gerrymanders where the overwhelming numbers in the legislature, where... Districts were drawn to maximize electing one party and minimize the election of others. I mean, it's hard to argue this cycle the way it turned out, that you had the Democrats sweeping everything at the top of the ticket, and by the bare minimum number of seats, the Democrats have control of the Senate and the House.
0:51:22.6 ZG: And as you pointed out, Matt, the total votes for those chambers reflected that as well. Now, it's one cycle, there's four more cycles to go with these maps, but at least for this cycle, it's... I don't hear massive screaming from the Republicans because, look, they're candidates for statewide office lost by substantial margins. This was a big Democratic year in Michigan, and it makes some sense that the legislature went Democratic.
0:51:54.5 MG: Now, as you all know, we got the most questions by far about Black representation, especially in Southeast Michigan and Detroit. And they included language like were Detroit residents or African American residents, disenfranchised by the process. They referenced the decline in majority minority districts in Michigan, but also the declines in representation in at least the state Senate, and they pointed out that some of these things were told to the commission before the maps went into effect without full remedies. So I'll give you all a chance to weigh in on this, but I guess I'll start with Nancy. If this was sort of a foreseeable part before the maps went into effect, is this a reasonably judged failure of the commission?
0:52:57.2 NW: I don't know how to answer that question, but I will say that the process that is in the amendment... The first priority is compliance with the Voting Rights Act. And as I understand it, there is this controversy around what do districts have to look like? Are they majority minority? Based on the voting history, will this give minority populations in this specifically Black Detroiters an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates? There is active litigation on that right now. So I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of questions that the commission had to wrestle with. It had to do so in out in the open, which is good. But it could have done a lot better with responding to public comment in a way. I mean, what's obvious is that they didn't do such a good job that people were accepting of the outcome. But with respect to whether they made the right decisions or not legally, I would leave that to Moon.
0:54:08.2 MD: Who is not a lawyer?
0:54:09.8 MG: But who knows the most about voting rights?
0:54:13.2 MD: Who knows. Very active.
0:54:15.3 MG: So yeah, Moon, talk about how this kind of compared to other state processes that you saw in terms of Voting Rights Act compliance strategies and how it should be judged.
0:54:26.7 MD: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, I think it's crucial to there are many invisible to the public often elements of doing a successful voting rights analysis that were very difficult here for various reasons. One is just certain kinds of elections that you look to to help you do a good job with the array compliance. Those just kinds of elections didn't occur in Michigan. And that's you know, you could talk about why, but that that's a fact. So as I said, there just were not very many contested Democratic primaries at all in the recent years in Michigan. And the ones that there were, it was hard to get those data together, even though the Department of State runs elections. A little known fact that's invisible to the public often is that the geometry, like the little pictures of where the voting precincts are, where the precincts are located around the state is actually excruciatingly difficult to track. And that's true for outsiders like people who are trying to do elections analysis, but it's even true for the state. So this is a surprise, I think, for a lot of people, because there's local control of precinct boundaries, the Department of State may not even know where the precincts are at any given moment in time. Of course, that information does get passed back and forth so that it's possible to correctly certify results.
0:55:56.9 MD: But very few states require for locals who change precinct boundaries to immediately report those new boundaries to the state. Actually, an interesting example is that New York just changed that policy quite recently with a new statute requiring precinct reporting. So there are all these factors that just made it difficult to be able to do a top notch VRA analysis. And that leaves you with a lot of guesswork about how demographics and electoral history are going to combine. And then I cannot emphasize enough how much the system of plurality also introduces pathologies that create fairness distortions when it comes to minority opportunity. So as we saw in the example that I spotlighted, when you have eight Black candidates running in the Democratic primary, each with some base of support, it becomes fairly difficult for the voting bloc that supports those candidates to get representation. And that's what happened here. And there are alternatives, and I think we'll discuss some of them later. But for instance, one alternative that's becoming popular around the country is to use ranked choice in place of plurality elections, which specifically addresses the potential for vote splitting, so that you don't need so much party control trying to clear the field by getting some candidates out of the way to avoid these vote splitting outcomes.
0:57:30.7 MD: So that's one possible way forward. But anyway, these are important phenomena to have in mind. Now, let me say at the same time, there's a question of legal compliance with the Voting Rights Act, but there's also a question of procedural fairness. And I do think that we were hearing the voices of Detroiters coming to the commission and worrying about the maps. And that's a lesson learned for next time is that there are many components to sort of culling away with a feeling of fairness. One of them is legal compliance with the rules around valid redistricting. But another is not just the optics, but the actual practice of thinking about how to take those kinds of concerns into account in real time. And I'm confident that in the next cycle, the commission will pay closer attention.
0:58:24.8 MG: Zach, as we talked about, some of these results are about candidacy decisions and what elites learn and whether we have races where we have eight Black candidates versus White candidates, or we have a race where no Black candidate runs, despite a district having a large number of Black residents. What do you think sort of political elites and potential candidates will learn from this cycle? And is there hope that perhaps things will evolve over the course of the decade as folks learn that maybe they could be competitive in more of these districts?
0:59:00.3 ZG: Well, I think, if you really look at the numbers, going into the Michigan House next year, there were six... In the current term, there were six Black state representatives representing Detroit and going into the next term, there's going to be six Black state representatives from Detroit. And what it's going to be really interesting to see is what happens in a district like Helena Scott's. So she's an incumbent state representative, African American, and represents Detroit now. And her district got drawn into Oakland County. So she has part of Detroit, part of Oakland County. And she ended up winning. She had some quality opponents from the suburban side of her district, did win the Democratic primary. But what happens when she doesn't run again, whether it's because of term limits, or she runs for something else, or just decides to retire, then at that point, does a suburban candidate break through because there's not an incumbent to try to hold that seat. I think that's going to be something that's looked at pretty closely. Another area I think that I was talking to a long time Detroit activist recently is what about...
1:00:14.3 ZG: So the factor that was looked at here was voting age population when the districts were drawn, but there was a lot of concern from the Detroit side that suburbanites tend to vote in much higher percentages in primaries than Detroiters. And that would skew things. So what might look like a 40-45% Black voting age population district is actually exaggerated because voting participation is not as high in Detroit in a primary. So that's going to be something that's looked at closely as well. And if you look at the head to head races in these primaries, where you had a Democratic primary that featured a White suburbanite versus a Detroiter who was Black, it actually played out pretty evenly. In the Senate, there was one victory by a White candidate in that scenario, that was Mallory McMorrow, and there was one victory by a Black candidate, and that was Erika Geiss over in the House. In those head to head match ups, you had three Black candidates win and four White candidates win as well as one Latina candidate win. So as you pointed out, Matt, one question here is, will candidates, potential candidates see opportunity or not? Because so much depends on who actually gets into a race and who doesn't.
1:01:41.6 MG: The next most common question we got was a sort of a celebratory one, kind of on to the next state. So they said, Michigan succeeded, what states are next on the list and what should we be telling them? So Nancy, I'm sure you're getting those calls. So who is next and what should we be telling them?
1:02:04.6 NW: It's interesting because there were... We were part of a group of four states that put initiatives on the ballot in 2018 and got them all passed. And some of them actually in Missouri, for example, they passed an independent commission amendment in 2018. And then, the legislature pushed for another amendment to be put on the ballot in 2020, which rolled back repealed, the independent commission. So there are a lot of states that have initiatives as an option that have been trying to put commissions in place, but they've been undermined by politicians, of course, because there's so much power at stake. As for states that haven't gone yet that are kind of ripe for a movement like ours, honestly, we haven't been approached by any. We have been approached by activists, for example, in Virginia or North Carolina that are up against such huge odds. And yet they say, this is so bad that like we were in Michigan, we are gonna do whatever we can anyway. So what we advise them then is like how to put together a package that would create a fair and just redistricting process, knowing though that they have such a huge uphill battle to actually get that passed in the legislature.
1:03:45.2 MG: So even if there aren't a lot of obvious opportunities now, what would we tell them if we hear that they wouldn't learn from your process knowledge of how you put together the activism, but also your content knowledge? What did the actual amendment look like and how much did that matter for its success?
1:04:04.5 NW: Yeah, so in terms of how we built our movement, what I have been telling folks is like, you just got to just try, you got to start somewhere, you got to have the conversation that leads to the next conversation, right? When we started, we were in basements and libraries talking to like 15 people. And then, eventually, you were trying to gain momentum. And these messages of this is completely unfair, the only people that are winning are politicians, those resonate across the political spectrum. So I would tell people just you got to do what citizens have to do to change, to make change, you know, in the system that you have, which is just work as long as it takes, and get as much attention and try to gain enough support so that you can overcome the gerrymander and you can vote in a way to kind of overcome all of the biases that are written, just written into the maps. But yeah, and then the easier part, the easier question for us to answer is, what are the elements of a successful fair redistricting process?
1:05:23.5 NW: And those are kind of some of the things that I mentioned earlier, is complete independence, take politicians out of it, take the courts out of it, take the governor out of it. So in Michigan, for example, the courts will never draw a map, neither will the legislature. All they can do, the courts can do is tell the commission that if they didn't comply with the Constitution, that they have to try again. So, because we've seen in so many other states that if there's any kind of pressure relief valve or any way to resolve these questions politically, then that's where things go. And that's where we get back to the situation again, where it's out of our control and the parties fight it out to see who can gain power at our expense.
1:06:13.2 MD: I guess I might just add to that. One thing that I saw that just to boost Nancy's signal that was powerful about the Michigan example was, what if not politicians did some things extraordinarily well, from my point of view, having watched things unfold around the country. And one was to work really successfully, to do successful outreach to a lot of different grassroots groups of all kinds. That was really helpful. And the other was to kind of work well with the Department of State. MDOS also did a fantastic job in many ways. I was really impressed with how MDOS was able to engage the public, get quick feedback, quick, loud and voluminous feedback from the public on a lot of what they did. And just to give one example from the community of interest collection process, after a few weeks of collecting testimony of different kinds through the portal, we were getting way more narrative testimony, people telling stories in words, than we were getting maps. And we wanted more maps.
1:07:17.1 MD: And so MDOS went back and found the full mailing list of people who had submitted written testimony and wrote to all of them and said, "Hey, we'd like to encourage you to consider submitting a map. Here's a video. Here's access to training sessions." And it absolutely worked. Within a few weeks after that, there was a surge in public mapping. So I think there were a lot of... If I look around the country and see what some recipes for success are, they involve a kind of group or form group or supporting nonprofit like Voters Not Politicians that has strong relationships with community level organizations and also staffing by a competent nonpartisan body like the Department of State here that does a good job of communicating with the public. Those are other ingredients.
1:08:10.0 MG: So Zach, as Moon said, we got a lot of public submissions of communities of interest. But according to the questioners, there's some doubt about how easy it was for the commission to actually incorporate those comments into the maps that were drawn. So as you were looking at these districts, are there examples that stand out of communities of interest that did kind of gain a new voice from these maps? Maybe say the Lakeshore District that you talked about on the west side or the equivalent on the east side where districts were sort of drawn around water boundaries. Was there evidence in the campaign that those communities of interest were gaining more attention?
1:08:53.1 ZG: So I guess a two part answer to that... I think if you're looking for an example where a community of interest was talked about and actually did come to fruition, you'd probably look at the 20th Michigan House District. So that's West Bloomfield and some other pieces around it. West Bloomfield had been split up for the last decade, basically split in half. Part of it joined with Birmingham and Bloomfield Township. The other part joined with Commerce Township. And by drawing it together, it united a substantial Jewish voting block over there. And Noah Arbit won the Democratic primary and then the general election, founder of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus. So you could definitely look at that as a community of interest where there was some success. You mentioned that Lakeshore District along Lake St. Clair. This was an interesting state Senate district, number 12, basically started at Grosse Pointe Park and then went all the way up to Algonac in St. Clair County. It's hard to pick two areas that would be more different than the Grosse Points and Southern St. Clair County in their politics and culture. But they were united around the idea they all shared Lake St. Clair.
1:10:12.8 ZG: And I don't think we really saw a lot of that come into play in the campaign. Both political parties spent millions and millions of dollars slamming the other side's candidate on things like COVID response or how they voted on legislation related to issues coming out of the Larry Nassar scandal. And while certainly there was some hints of talking about water, the idea that maybe this would have been a race where water quality and recreation and safe drinking water would have been a big focus, that did not come to fruition in a district like that. So I think it was mostly a mixed bag. I don't know that the idea of uniting communities of interest really turned out to be much of anything in terms of creating campaigns centered around those issues. But we could see, we'll have to watch what these new state senators and state representatives do, that they take those issues into greater account. That Southwest Lake Michigan shoreline district where Joey Andrews from St. Joseph beat Kevin Whiteford, who lives just north of South Haven unites an area from Saugatuck down to New Buffalo along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
1:11:33.2 ZG: And maybe now, Joey Andrews is gonna be very focused on tourism, short term rental, lake shore, water quality issues. I don't know that that's going to be the case or not, we'll have to see. But in the past, those areas were combined with inland jurisdictions that were very focused on agriculture, rural areas where that was a big focus. So it'll be interesting to see how these, what these legislators do, does their focus change? And maybe that's where we see the community of interest factor play out.
1:12:11.2 MG: Moon, what are the lessons learned on the COI, the communities of interest analysis? It seemed like the commission was kind of having trouble sifting through or kind of aggregating that information.
1:12:23.8 MD: Yes. And can you see this map now?
1:12:27.5 MG: I can't see anything. Oh, now I can. Now I can.
1:12:27.5 MD: Okay. Excellent. So, it so happens as I was hearing Zach talk, I mentioned earlier that I could show you what our communities of interest visualizer looked like. And that was just such a great lead in. So if I turn this on, I mentioned that what my lab did was synthesize all the public input into 33 clusters. And one of them is called West Bloomfield. And you see it here highlighted on this map. And what this lets you do is if you want to see what people were saying. So we had water quality and resource sharing as some of the themes. And if you want to see that, you can click over to the supporting data and actually just literally read what people wrote in this area and see comments like water brings us together. And I think the other one that Zach mentioned was Lake St. Clair. Let me see. I believe that's cluster six. So here's the Lake St. Clair cluster that we pulled out. And we can click on the supporting data for that and see what people had to say in this area. So I just wanted to point out that if you're curious to take a look for yourself at what the community of interest testimony might look like after you try to take it all and put it together, that tool, which is available at districter.org/michigan, is just a great way to see it for yourself.
1:13:55.3 MD: So what were the lessons learned? For me, there was a top, top, top one right at the beginning of the list of lessons learned about how to do COI collection and aggregation better. And that is to we set up this process with a major priority on accessibility and do it yourselfism. That is we made the tool fairly easy to use. We had videos, we had trainings, as I mentioned before, and it just worked phenomenally well. We have lots of people use it. But I would actually bring the needle a little bit back the other way in the future and encourage the Department of State or whichever other authority is running the COI collection process in the state to think about having interviewers, to having a small staff of intake specialists who get on a call with someone and walk them through the process of drawing and narrating an effective map. And partly, I say that because I read all 1500 plus pieces of testimony that were submitted with maps and they were just very heterogeneous, all different kinds. Some of them were huge. One person painted everything but Detroit and said, "My community is all of Michigan but Detroit."
1:15:20.6 MD: And so they just varied enormously in how useful they were, how detailed they were, whether they were keyed into the kinds of things that the Michigan Constitution contemplates as constituting relevant shared interests. And I think if you had a small staff of people helping in real time folks to draw stuff that can be directly plugged into the process, it would make the aggregation a whole lot easier afterwards. So that's lesson learned number one, is to have a slightly more structured intake process. And lesson learned number two for me because we were working so hard to get those clusters together in time, but the nature of redistricting, especially in a year like this where the census came out quite late, the census data came out quite late, the time crunch factor was incredible. And so having the pipeline really well established in advance so that you can essentially press a big red button and get the final deliverable together much faster. That would help the commission I think be able to work at the speed that it had to work to get the maps together.
1:16:32.0 MG: Nancy, we also got questions about how to make the commission endure. And we got a question tonight about how will the commission actually use information from this election and from future elections to improve the process going forward?
1:16:49.6 NW: One of the things I wanted to kind of piggyback off of what Moon was saying is how can the commission use lessons learned this time, but actually how can our whole state? So we did go out and we were talking with community of interest partners, we were talking with organized groups, but then not just residents who signed up to our portal as being interested in participating. And we definitely prioritize accessibility. We wanted people to know that they didn't have to do anything in any particular way, that this was our process and that it would be the most successful if the more people participated, the more successful we would be. At the same time, the commission has to draw maps and it has to draw maps around communities of interest. So I'm excited at the prospect of continuing to work with our partners and then also bringing more people in and working with experts like Moon and consultants and staff of the next commission like she was saying, and getting people to create work product that's more actionable, for example. I think, and I'm thinking of a whole state coming together and kind of moving along and moving forward with each cycle. And that's really exciting.
1:18:04.9 NW: So what can the commission do with lessons learned? This commission has already written a report because it's required to about how it made the decisions it did. It's also kind of looked back and made a lessons learned video as well as a report. So it's trying to memorialize all of the things. And that's great. And then there's groups like ours that are also trying to do the same thing. We're interviewing our own volunteers, everyone we interacted with to kind of say, what did we do right? What can we do better? And it's again, the commission works for the people. And I would think that the next commission that is seated will take all of this institutional knowledge and kind of build and grow from there.
1:18:56.5 MG: And we had a few folks worried about whether this is actually permanent now. So folks asked about the independent legislature series, Supreme Court case. We know that the commission itself says that they need to maintain an existence of some sort to continue to fight lawsuits. So can we judge it permanent for the next 10 years and how big are those threats?
1:19:23.7 NW: Well, the independent state legislature theory, it's going to be considered by the US Supreme Court in a case called Moore V. Harper. And that was definitely one of the things that we had our eyes on and we were concerned about 'cause if the Supreme Court rules one way and the most kind of radical way of embracing this theory, then they would authorize basically saying that state legislatures, just the House and the Senate themselves, can set any rules they want to for federal elections. And that would take away the power of our commission from... Take away the power to draw congressional lines. So again, we'll have to see what comes out of Moore V. Harper. A lot of people, I think very few people think that the Supreme Court is going to adopt such an extreme theory. But that is one of the risks that states, even states that have passed independent commissions and that are kind of have established those in their state constitutions, it makes even states like ours vulnerable. But only as to congressional lines, to the extent that that's a comfort. [chuckle]
1:20:45.3 MG: We also want to go back a little bit to the Michigan as national model. So I think Nancy threw a little bit of cold water on the ability of other states to actually enact these processes. But Moon, what are the prospects for redistricting reform nationally and how big of a role is Michigan going to play in that process?
1:21:09.6 MD: Yeah, no, I think Michigan is gonna play a very important poster child role in moving forward. We had very functional commissions in California and Arizona already, and now Michigan joins the list. And of course, one can quibble with many details of how things were run. But from a high level looking down, you see pretty good success and I think relatively good satisfaction when you get these independent and kind of, as I said, functional commissions. So there are examples that were strikingly less successful. Of course, we talked about Ohio, the Virginia Commission deadlocked along partisan lines. Actually, Utah is an interesting example. So Nancy mentioned four states that got constitutional amendments passed in 2018. But there was a fifth state that put redistricting reform to the voters in 2018, and that was Utah, whose voters passed a law requiring an independent commission. The problem is it was just a law, not a constitutional amendment. And so the legislature just downgraded the commission from empowered to advisory. And then the commission met and I was one of the people helping to advise them on partisan fairness, among other things. And the commission put forward plans and the legislature just tossed them and enacted different ones.
1:22:45.7 MD: So there's, I think, gonna be a balance moving forward of different kinds of strategies. And indeed, the Harper V. Moore ISL case kind of looms over a lot of this. But there's something else that I brought up a little bit before that I know is percolating around the country, which is the possibility of change to the election system and not just to the way of drawing lines. So Alaska and Maine already have ranked choice voting in place for their congressional elections. They still do them out of single member districts, but now they have a different method of asking voters for their preferences and aggregating those preferences. And Nevada also just passed a similar reform in this last election. In Michigan, that already exists at the local level in East Point, which uses ranked choice to elect as of recently. And that's a potential reform that in the first instance, if you keep drawing districts, it helps those districts kind of behave more along the lines of... Behave more stably. One of my themes tonight has been talking about how voters can surprise you and how things like, can... And this dovetails with some of Zach's comments too, things like candidate availability and vote splitting can produce unexpected effects.
1:24:09.7 MD: There are other election systems that mitigate that somewhat. Another possibility looking forward in that direction is multi-member districts with ranked choice voting, which tend to give you better proportionality without having to really carefully choose a metric and an election index and carefully draw to get that. So it's important to remember in all of this conversation that you can have from drawing the lines differently to who draws the lines, to what the metrics are, to how elections are conducted. There's just many different intervention points for reform. And I think it's important to keep all of them in mind because healthy democracy is... Healthy representative democracy is the product of this whole large collection of choices. So these are some of the things on my mind.
1:25:01.8 MG: Zach, as you said, the commission was supposed to not take into consideration where current incumbents live and they certainly did not. And one of the results might be that we have a whole lot of new legislators in Lansing and maybe next time we'll have many fewer term limited legislators running. How's that looking for the governing process?
1:25:25.1 ZG: Well, you can't talk about that without taking into account the passage of proposal one. Voters passed proposal one a few weeks ago, which now will allow members of the House and Senate to serve 12 years total in the legislature. And they could serve that in one chamber, whereas the 1992 term limits law that is now soon to be void once the provision takes effect, set three two-year terms maximum in the House, two four-year terms in the Senate maximum. So you're going to have, in the 2024 elections in the Michigan House, of the 110 members who were elected a few weeks ago, only one will not be able to run for reelection because of term limits. It's something we have not seen in a generation. And so this was by far the most competitive cycle I've ever covered in the more than 20 years I've been covering state government politics. We were tracking 80 out of the 110 seats during the primary phase as having a competitive primary where the winner had the potential to win the general election. So obviously, we weren't tracking Republican primaries in Detroit or Democratic primaries in the thumb and that sort of thing, but 80 out of 110, that's unheard of.
1:26:51.0 ZG: And then started out with about, I think 29 of the 110 seats we had as rated competitive going into the general election. Again, that's way up from the past, many more seats that are competitive. But I have a suspicion and we'll find out, we'll see, but assuming most incumbents do run for re-election that the number of competitive seats in 2024 in the Michigan House will be much smaller because as a potential candidate, running for an open seat is much more appealing than trying to knock out an incumbent. Incumbents overall still did very well in the selection cycle, even as they were forced to move or run against each other. And I wouldn't be surprised if we revert back to how things were prior to term limits where the number of competitive House seats was in the high single digits. We'll have to see, but fewer open seats generally means fewer competitive seats.
1:27:58.7 MG: We're down to our final minute. So Nancy, one of the questions that you said you liked was, what do you wish you would have known that you know now going into this process?
1:28:15.8 NW: Did I say I wanted to? There are a lot of things. One of the things I wished that we included in the amendment was to end prison gerrymandering. And that's something that we will, Voters, Not Politicians, will be working on going forward. COVID was not in our sights at all, of course. And I think the commission did about as well as it could, but perhaps we could have given it a little bit more leeway with respect to the deadlines, for example. I mean, it ended up working out. But honestly, I think the thing about the process is that you have to build a framework and it has to be strong enough to endure, but it also has to be a living thing. And for the most part, I think what we've built here is that framework. It's shown that it will be functional. And from here on, that it will continue to evolve as we as a state learned our lessons and take them into account and apply them going forward. So I think overall, we're really, really happy that people were able to pass this structural reform and that it has shown to be resilient and that this is what this process is what in these elections, these competitive elections and close elections are what every voter in Michigan is gonna be expecting from here on out.
1:29:51.0 MD: True, true.
1:29:51.7 MG: Well, to end on that positive note, that's all the time that we have for tonight. So thanks so much for attending and submitting and asking great questions. Thanks to the panelists for their remarks and your important roles in the process. And thanks again to our co-sponsors, the Ford School, CLOSUP, IPPSR, Voters Not Politicians, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, the Program in Practical Policy Engagement, Gongwer News Service and Detroit Public Television. And thank you all for attending. Finally, if you'd like more information, you can find links to redistricting resources, the video from today's and past panels at closup.umich.edu. So we thank you for your questions, your comments and your participation. And thanks for taking this journey with us. Here's hoping that Michigan's new maps will fairly represent our state and make Michigan proud.