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Michigan Department of Civil Rights: MICRC Maps Violate the Voting Rights Act, Must be Redrawn

LANSING, MI-Dr. Jerome Reide, Legislative Liaison for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, has released Department analysis showing the five proposed electoral maps offered by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Dr. Reide's analysis was filed with MICRC on December 9, 2021, in advance of the end of the public comment period and the Commission's final vote on the maps, which is expected on December 30, 2021.

"The maps under consideration do not measure up to the requirements of the law, and do not meet the test of fairness and equity that should be the goal of this Commission," said Reide. "The Commission still has time to produce maps that will not dilute the minority vote or violate the Voting Rights Act."

According to Dr. Reide's analysis, none of the five Congressional District maps proposed on Nov. 5, 2021, includes a majority Black district. Currently Michigan has two majority-minority Congressional districts - the 13th and 14th.

The Voting Rights Act requires that the Commission draw majority-minority districts to prevent vote dilution in Saginaw, Southfield, Flint, Pontiac, Taylor, Inkster, Redford, Hamtramck and Detroit. Each of these communities of interest could be denied the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice if the present percentages of majority-minority districts are diluted.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined three threshold measures in Thornburg v. Gingles (1986) to evaluate whether an electoral map violates the rights of minority groups set forth in the Voting Rights Act:

  • A minority group must demonstrate it is large enough and compact enough to constitute a majority in an electoral district.
  • A minority group must demonstrate it is politically united.
  • A minority group must demonstrate the majority group historically votes sufficiently as a group to defeat the minority group's preferred candidate.

The Voting Rights Act is designed to allow for coalitions of Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and other minority residents, as well as those who identify with two or more racial groups, to coalesce and elect candidates of their choice. The latest MICRC maps remove that opportunity and will prevent many of Michigan's minority voters from any reasonable chance of electing their preferred candidates.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brennan said in Gingles, 478 U.S. at 36-37, that there are several additional "objective factors" in determining the "totality of circumstances" surrounding an alleged violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Some objective factors include the extent to which the members of the minority group bear the effects of discrimination in areas like education, employment and health, which hinder effective participation.

In Michigan, the effects of discrimination that help demonstrate he "totality of circumstances" that surround the potential violation of the Voting Rights Act in the MICRC's proposed November 5, 2021, maps include:

Until the 1954 election of Charles Diggs in the old 15th Congressional District (13th today) followed by the election of John Conyers 10 years later in 1964 in the old 1st Congressional District (14th today), Detroit's majority-minority community could not elect a Congressional candidate of their choice. The quality of education in Michigan depends greatly on where students live. Residency is dependent on household income, which in turn is dependent on the opportunities provided to families, which is also dependent on parents' own race and background. The continuing crisis in Flint, Michigan related to its public water supply and delivery system includes allegations that the city's residents are the victims of discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, age, and disability. Residents of Black, Hispanic, and Latino ethnicity, non-English speakers and individuals of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. Four State Senate Districts that are currently majority Black would be eliminated in five of the six MICRC-proposed maps. Commissioner Kellom's map contains three majority Black State Senate districts.

"The Commission has a profound responsibility to draw electoral boundaries that protect the voting rights of all Michigan voters," said MDCR Executive Director John E. Johnson, Jr. "They must reject these flawed maps and offer options that do not erode the ability of minority voters to elect candidates who both look like them and reflect their policy preferences regarding the needs of their communities."

Find MDCR's memo to the MICRC on the maps in question here.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the Commission.

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