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Expert Brief

Overview: Michigan Redistricting Reform Proposal

An overview of a citizen-proposal to reform the way redistricting is done in Michigan.

Published: August 17, 2017

A citizen-led organ­iz­a­tion called Voters Not Politi­cians has filed a ballot initi­at­ive that would create a thir­teen member citizens’ redis­trict­ing commis­sion to draw the state’s congres­sional and legis­lat­ive bound­ar­ies. If approved by voters, a citizens’ commis­sion would draw districts start­ing in 2021. A copy of the ballot proposal can be found here. A PDF version of this analysis can be found here.

Over­view of Key Features

What Maps the Commis­sion Will Draw

Congress and state legis­lature

Commis­sion Size

Thir­teen members (4 Demo­crats, 4 Repub­lic­ans, 5 unaf­fili­ated or affil­i­ated with a minor party)

How Commis­sion­ers are Selec­ted

Michigan’s secret­ary of state (SOS) would be respons­ible for circu­lat­ing applic­a­tions for the commis­sion in vari­ous regions of the state and mail­ing applic­a­tions to 10,000 registered voters selec­ted at random. The secret­ary of state must continue to mail applic­a­tions until thirty indi­vidu­als from each of the two largest parties in the state and forty indi­vidu­als affil­i­ated with neither of the two largest parties have respon­ded to the mail­ings. Applic­ants must attest under oath their partisan affil­i­ation or non-affil­i­ation, and confirm they meet the neces­sary qual­i­fic­a­tions.

The secret­ary of state would then review the applic­a­tions received to verify applic­ants’ eligib­il­ity to serve on the commis­sion and their partisan affil­i­ation, if any. By July 1, the secret­ary of state will elim­in­ate any applic­ants that do not meet the neces­sary qual­i­fic­a­tions, and divide the remain­ing applic­ants into three pools by partisan affil­i­ation (sixty Demo­crats, sixty Repub­lic­ans, and eighty unaf­fili­ated applic­ants). Half of the pools must be comprised of applic­ants who respon­ded to the mail­ings. If fewer than thirty applic­ants from each party and forty unaf­fili­ated applic­ants respond to the random mail­ings, the pool will be popu­lated by the remain­ing qual­i­fied applic­ants. The secret­ary of state must use accep­ted stat­ist­ical weight­ing meth­ods to ensure that the pools mirror the demo­graphic and geographic makeup of the state.

The randomly selec­ted pools will be presen­ted to the major­ity and minor­ity legis­lat­ive lead­ers of each cham­ber of the Michigan Legis­lature, who each may strike up to five applic­ants, for a maximum of twenty strikes total. From the remain­ing pool of applic­ants, the secret­ary of state will randomly draw the names of four Demo­crats, four Repub­lic­ans, and five inde­pend­ent or third-party members.

Who is Eligible to Be a Commis­sioner

Commis­sion­ers must be registered and eligible to vote in Michigan.

The proposal would impose several restric­tions on who can serve on the commis­sion which would also apply to relat­ives, elim­in­at­ing poten­tial conflicts of interest of those that might have a vested interest in the process from serving on the commis­sion. Within six years prior to their appoint­ment, commis­sion­ers may not have been:

  • Declared candid­ates for or elec­ted offi­cials to partisan state, federal, or local office;
  • Officers of or members of the govern­ing body of a national, state, or local polit­ical party;
  • Paid consult­ants or employ­ees of a federal, state, or local elec­ted offi­cial or polit­ical candid­ate, of a federal, state, or local polit­ical candid­ate’s campaign, or of a polit­ical action commit­tee;
  • Employ­ees of the legis­lature;
  • A registered lobby­ist with the Michigan Bureau of Elec­tions or an employee of a registered lobby­ist, or;
  • An unclas­si­fied state employee who is exempt from clas­si­fic­a­tion in state civil service except for employ­ees of courts of record, employ­ees of the state insti­tu­tions of higher educa­tion, and persons in the armed forces of the state.

Parents, step­par­ents, chil­dren, stepchil­dren, or spouses of any of the indi­vidu­als disqual­i­fied from the above section and indi­vidu­als disqual­i­fied for appoin­ted or elec­ted office by the state consti­tu­tion are also ineligible to serve on the commis­sion.

Commis­sion­ers are ineligible from hold­ing partisan elect­ive office at the state, county, city, village, or town­ship level five years after serving on the commis­sion.

How a Map Gets Approved

A major­ity vote of the commis­sion is required to approve a plan, which must include at least two commis­sion­ers affil­i­ated with each major polit­ical party, and two commis­sion­ers affil­i­ated with neither party.

If no plan receives the required major­ity vote, each commis­sioner may submit a proposed plan to the commis­sion for consid­er­a­tion. Each commis­sioner shall rank each plan accord­ing to her/his pref­er­ence. The commis­sion will adopt the plan receiv­ing the highest points that is also ranked among the top half of plans by at least two commis­sion­ers not affil­i­ated with the party of the commis­sioner submit­ting the plan, or by at least two commis­sion­ers affil­i­ated with a major party, in the case of plans submit­ted by a non-affil­i­ated commis­sioner. In the event of a tie, all plans are submit­ted to the secret­ary of state who will select a plan at random.

All final decisions regard­ing other commis­sion proceed­ings must be made with a major­ity of commis­sion members, with the excep­tion of the firing or reten­tion of profes­sional staff, consult­ants, or experts, which requires approval from at least one commis­sioner from each of the two largest parties and one commis­sioner affil­i­ated with neither party.

All final decisions are recor­ded and the record must be made avail­able to the public upon request.

The Rules That Must Be Followed in Draw­ing a Map

 The commis­sion must use the follow­ing criteria in draw­ing maps in the order of prior­ity listed: 

1.   Districts shall be of equal popu­la­tion, mandated by the U.S. Consti­tu­tion and must comply with the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws.

2.   Districts shall be geograph­ic­ally contigu­ous districts. Islands are considered contigu­ous by land to the county of which they are a part.

3.   Districts shall reflect the state’s diverse popu­la­tion and respect communit­ies of interest.

4.   Districts may not provide a dispro­por­tion­ate advant­age to any polit­ical party, determ­ined by using accep­ted meas­ures of partisan fair­ness.

5.   Districts may not be drawn to (dis)favor any candid­ate or incum­bent.

6.   Districts shall reflect county, city, and town­ship bound­ar­ies.

7.   Districts shall be compact. 

Communit­ies of interest are defined as, but not limited to, popu­la­tions with shared cultural or historic char­ac­ter­ist­ics or economic interests. Communit­ies of interest do not include rela­tion­ships with polit­ical parties, incum­bents, or polit­ical candid­ates.

Before voting on a map, the commis­sion must test the map using the appro­pri­ate tech­no­logy to determ­ine compli­ance with the goals and rules listed above. The commis­sion must publish the results of those tests and any computer source code used to conduct the test in advance of the meet­ing to vote on the proposed maps.

Public Input and Trans­par­ency

Nine members, includ­ing one from each subpool, consti­tutes a quorum, and all commis­sion meet­ings require a quorum. Commis­sion meet­ings are open to the public, and the commis­sion is required to hold at least ten public hear­ings to soli­cit input both before, and five public hear­ings after draw­ing proposed maps in differ­ent geographic loca­tions across the state. The commis­sion must provide advanced notice of all its meet­ings. Commis­sion meet­ings must also use tech­no­logy to provide a method for the public to watch hear­ings and submit comments in real time.

The commis­sion, its staff, attor­neys, and consult­ants may not discuss redis­trict­ing matters outside of public hear­ings unless the commu­nic­a­tion occurs in writ­ing or at a previ­ously public forum and will help the commis­sioner gain inform­a­tion relev­ant to the perform­ance of their duties.

The public may also submit plans and any other support­ing mater­i­als, includ­ing any under­ly­ing data, for the commis­sion to consider.

The commis­sion must publish the proposed plans and allow at least forty-five days for public comment.

Within thirty days of adopt­ing a final plan, the commis­sion must publish the plans, and issue a public report, includ­ing an explan­a­tion for their decisions and the mater­i­als used to draw the plans.


  • By Janu­ary 1, 2020 and every census year there­after: The secret­ary of state will publish and mail applic­a­tions.
  • June 1, 2020:  Dead­line for applic­a­tions to serve on commis­sion. 
  • July 1, 2020: The secret­ary of state will elim­in­ate any applic­ants that do not meet the neces­sary qual­i­fic­a­tions, separ­ate the remain­ing applic­ants into three pools, and submit the pools to the legis­lat­ive lead­ers.
  • August 1, 2020: The legis­lat­ive lead­ers may make up to five strikes, or twenty strikes total. 
  • Septem­ber 1, 2020: The secret­ary of state will randomly select the thir­teen members of the commis­sion.
  • Novem­ber 1, 2021: Final redis­trict­ing plans must be adop­ted. A redis­trict­ing plan becomes law sixty days after public­a­tion.

Terms of Office

The terms of the commis­sion­ers expire once the commis­sion completes draw­ing maps, but not before comple­tion of any judi­cial review.


The proposal mandates that the Michigan Legis­lature appro­pri­ate suffi­cient funds to enable the commis­sion to carry out its activ­it­ies at an amount equal to but not less than twenty-five percent of the general fund for the secret­ary of state for that fiscal year. These required appro­pri­ations include funds adequate to pay each commis­sioner a stipend of at least twenty-five percent of the governor’s salary, retain inde­pend­ent legal and tech­nical experts, conduct meet­ings, and main­tain records.

A PDF version of this proposal over­view can be found here

This proposal over­view is inform­a­tion and does not imply endorse­ment by the Bren­nan Center for Justice.  

Prepared: August 2017