Secretary of State
Below is a list of responses to frequently asked questions that emerged throughout the public comment process. We will periodically update the list as new questions emerge.
Q: What is the Department of state going to use define the demographic and geographic data of the state the purposes of the random selection?
We plan to utilize data from the 2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate, which is available to the general public via the American Community Survey Data Profiles online search tool. Michigan demographic information can be viewed here.
Note: the statistics published in our original public comment posting was for the 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate. Since our original posting, the US Census Bureau has updated their website to the Data Profiles tool citing 2018 data. We have updated our percentages accordingly.
The variables will be defined as follows:
Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
Yes – 5.0%
No – 95.0%
White – 78.52%
Black or African American – 13.81%
American Indian or Alaska Native – 0.53%
Asian – 3.06%
Other – 1.23%
Two or more races – 2.85%
Males – 49.2%
Females – 50.8%
18-34 years old – 28.8%
35-54 years old – 32.4%
55+ years old – 38.8%
Southeast Michigan – 35.4% of the total state population
Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Monroe
Wayne County – 17.7% of the total state population
West Michigan – 23.8% of the total state population
Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Isabella, Muskegon, Montcalm, Ottawa, Kent, Ionia, Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Branch
East Central Michigan – 13.6% of the total state population
Midland, Bay, Huron, Gratiot, Saginaw, Tuscola, Sanilac, Clinton, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair
Northern Michigan – 6.4% of the total state population
Emmet, Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Presque Isle, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Kalkaska, Crawford, Oscoda, Alcona, Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Mason, Lake, Osceola, Arenac, Clare, Gladwin
Upper Peninsula – 3.1% of the total state population
Gogebic, Ontonagon, Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Iron, Marquette, Dickinson, Menominee, Alger, Delta, Schoolcraft, Luce, Mackinac, Chippewa
Q: Are the relevant selection demographics based on the total population or the voting age population (18 and over)? If the latter is used, does it consider all voting age people or only citizens?
The Michigan Constitution requires that the Secretary of State’s office use “accepted statistical weighting methods to ensure that the pools, as closely as possible, mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.” Accordingly, the demographics for race and ethnicity, sex, and geographic area are based on the total population in Michigan. However, in order to avoid a weighting imbalance and propose nearly equal weights for eligible age categories, we will not factor people age 17 and under into the weighted categories for age.
Q: Are Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish origin responses considered a “race” variable? Are they calculated together with or separate from non-Hispanic racial categories?
On the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” is a separate question from “Race.” They are separate categories and our proposed method treats them as separate variables as well. In other words, the categories for race include both Hispanic and non-Hispanic individuals. For example, a person could be both Hispanic and black, or non-Hispanic and black, and they would both be identified as “black” for the racial category. Hispanic identity is captured in a separate question, which makes it a separate variable.
Q: Will people’s names be visible during the random selection process? If not, how will applicants be identified and organized?
When the random selection process is performed, all applicants will be de-identified. Each applicant was assigned an ID number as the application was created in the system. The population will be organized in Application ID order. Importantly, however, the order in which applicants are organized has no relationship to the likelihood of an individual being selected.
Q: How does the State plan to combine the requirement for the partisan breakdown on the Commission (30%/30%/40%) with the rule that the selection process should “use accepted statistical weighting methods to ensure that the pools, as closely as possible, mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state”?
The Michigan Constitution requires that the entire pool of 200 “semi-finalists” mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state. There is no requirement or expectation that each of the individual partisan groups (30%/30%/40%) will mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state individually — only that the combined pool of 200 semi-finalists collectively mirror the state.
Accordingly, each demographic factor will be separately weighted and considered, without any cross tabulation of political party affiliation. The formula will randomly select 60 applicants who affiliate with the Democratic Party, 60 applicants who affiliate with the Republican Party, and 80 applicants who do not affiliate with either party until a group of 200 meets the demographic and geographic criteria to reflect the state as a whole. That will be the group of 200 semi-finalists referred to the legislature.
Q: Does the State plan to use raking to apply the demographic weights to the group of applicants prior to selecting semi-finalists? If so, what is the exact function in the visual basic program?
Yes, raking will be performed using basic Excel functions (not Visual Basic for Applications). “Raking” is a statistical method for weighting data, commonly used in polls or surveys (for example, see Pew Research Center’s explanation). Each application will receive a weighting factor for each demographic variable. The formula is a simple ratio of the percentage in the population of applications to the target percentage from the U.S. Census.
For example, the target percentage for females is 50.8%, based on Michigan census data. If the population of applicants is 40.0% female, the weighting for females would be 1.27 (50.8%/40.0%). The weighting for males would be 0.82 (49.2%/60.0%).
Q: How does the State plan to validate its weighting procedure?
See answer above. Once the weighting is applied, the sum of the weighted scores are compared to the census targets, to verify that they match.
Q: How large a deviation from the target population proportions is the State willing to accept in the pool of 200 semi-finalists?
This is still to be determined and will be based on the diversity of the population of applications received. The Department’s independent contractor, Rehmann LLC, will make a recommendation based on practical field tests of the software application and preliminary test data. Based on early modeling, we expect the tolerances will likely be 3.0% or less.
Q: What does it mean when the document states that, “If the random selection fails to satisfy the stated criteria, the program will continue to make new random selections until the criteria are met”? Does this mean that the random selection process starts over? If not, how will the State decide which selected semi-finalists to drop so that it can make “new random selections”? Will the State disclose the names of applicants initially selected and then discarded in favor of “new random selections”?
In order to maintain the statistical randomness of the process, the software application will operate in a fully automated manner. Once the applications are loaded and the tolerances set for mirroring “as closely as possible” the geographic and demographic makeup of the state, the application will draw a random selection of 200 applications – 60 who affiliate with the Democratic Party, 60 who affiliate with the Republican Party, and 80 who do not affiliate with either party. If that sample is within the stated tolerances, the program will output the results. If not, it will drop the entire selection, return those applicants to the pool, and make an entirely new random selection from the pool. In other words, in this automated process individual applicants are never discarded. There will be no log of individuals selected prior to the final selection that meets the set criteria. Every applicant will have an opportunity to be selected each time.
Q: Will the State disclose the software and the underlying computer code used in the random selection process so it can be reviewed and validated by outside groups?
The application is still under development. Once finalized, yes, a copy of the Visual Basic for Applications code in an Excel file will be made available upon request.
Q: How does the random selection process work? What role does the Legislature play?
The constitution outlines a specific process for the random selection of the final 13 commissioners. The Secretary of State must randomly select commissioners from the pool of eligible applicants. There are a three primary steps in that process.
Step 1: Following the closure of the application period on June 1, 2020, the Secretary of State’s Office must randomly select 200 semi-finalist applicants whose applications will be sent to the Michigan Legislature for review. Of the 200 randomly selected applicants, 60 people must self-identify as affiliating with the Republican Party, 60 people must self-identify as affiliating with the Democratic Party and 80 must self-identify as unaffiliated with either of those political parties. The Secretary of State’s Office must also use statistical weighting methods to ensure the pool of 200 semi-finalists mirrors the geographic and demographic makeup of the state, as specified by the state constitution.
Step 2: In July 2020 the minority and majority leaders in the Michigan Senate and the Speaker of the House and minority leader in the Michigan House will have the opportunity to remove up to 20 applicants from the semi-finalist pool for any reason.
Step 3: In August 2020, from the remaining pool received from the Legislature, the Secretary of State’s Office must randomly select four people who self-identify as affiliating with the Republican Party, four people who self-identify as affiliating with the Democratic Party and five people who self-identify as unaffiliated with either of those political parties to serve on commission.
Q: Is the selection process truly random?
Yes. The Secretary of State plays a purely ministerial role in the random selection process. Applicants drawn in various stages of the selection process will be selected at random, and the random-ness of that selection will be verified by external, independent firms as well as public observers.
Q: I hold a position that I think might prohibit me from serving as a commissioner, but I’m not sure. How do I know if I am eligible to serve?
The Michigan Constitution provides specific requirements for who is eligible to serve on the Commission. See Michigan Constitution, Article IV, Sec. 6 (1)b-d. The Department of State has provided guidance on these eligibility criteria, which can be found here. If you have additional questions after reviewing the criteria, please email Redistricting@Michigan.gov.
ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF COMMISSIONERS
Q: What are the specific tasks and responsibilities of a commissioner? Is there any prior experience, educational background or other qualification required?
Commissioners are expected to work with their twelve colleagues in good faith to engage citizen input to craft state legislative (state house and senate) and U.S. congressional districts for the entire state of Michigan. You do not need to have any prior knowledge or experience in drawing legislative districts. Once the commission is selected there will be a training and education session to prepare commissioners for their work. Following that “orientation” period, the initial months of the commissioners’ work will involve collaborating with other commissioners to establish a committee structure and procedures, hiring staff and outside experts, and developing a plan for citizen engagement. The work will later involve efforts to gather the input and advice of citizens as maps are being drawn and considered. Similarly, it will involve reviewing map submissions from the public and taking them into account. Ultimately, commissioners will need to reach consensus about the maps and vote on the final districts for state house, state senate, and U.S. congressional districts in Michigan.
Q: What is the expected compensation of commissioners?
According to the Constitution, the commissioners will receive compensation equal to 25% of the Governor’s salary, which amounts to approximately $40,000.
Q: What is the time commitment?
The Commission will convene in the fall of 2020 and will be required to enact district maps no later than November 1, 2021. Commissioners will set meeting dates and other commitments within those parameters upon its convening.
We estimate, based on the experiences of the citizens who sat on California’s citizen redistricting commission in 2011, that the work hours will be variable depending on the week. Some weeks the time commitment may be limited to a handful of hours, while others may be much more intensive. The work will be varied throughout the year to include meetings, at least 15 constitutionally-required forums and town halls, and other discussions as the commission deems necessary to fulfil its service to the state.
Q: Will travel expenses be reimbursed?
This will be determined by the commission itself. Michigan’s constitution does not specifically address travel reimbursement, but the commission does have the authority to choose to reimburse commissioners’ travel and other related expenses as part of the expenses of the duties of Commissioner.
Q: The application indicates there must be consensus among commissioners for major decisions. What does that mean?
The commission will select the district maps by “a majority vote of the commission, including at least two commissioners who affiliate with each major party, and at least two commissioners who do not affiliate with either major party.” [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (14)(c)]. If two votes from each group of commissioners is not possible, there is a provision for a system similar to rank choice voting to determine which is the final set of maps.
The constitution also notes that “a decision on the dismissal or retention of paid staff or consultants requires the vote of at least one commissioner affiliating with each of the major parties and one non-affiliating commissioner.” [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (12)]
Q: How is the Department of State working to ensure the process is truly open to Michiganders of every background and demographic?
The Department of State plans to take several steps to ensure transparency of the applicant pool and encourage applicants from a wide range of backgrounds to apply. These steps include:
We hope each and every Michigander can participate in the redistricting process – even if they do not apply or are not randomly selected to be a commissioner. It is critical that people participate in the map drawing process after the commission is formed, by, for example, attending a commission public hearing or submitting a map to the commission for consideration.
Q: What is the penalty for lying on the application, especially in the eligibility or affiliation section?
Lying on the application is a criminal offense, punishable under penalty of perjury.
In addition, the applications of the 200 semi-finalists will be made public in June 2020. The public, the press, and the Legislature will all have access to read and review applications. Legislative leaders are able to evaluate and remove up to 20 applicants from the semi-finalist pool for any reason.
Q: What does “affiliation” with a political party mean? How will it be determined?
The Michigan Constitution does not provide a definition for the term “affiliation.”
Questions around what “affiliation” means is one reason why the draft application includes an optional space for applicants to provide more information in their own words about their political affiliation if they so choose.
Q: What purpose do the optional, open-ended questions serve if the process is truly random?
The two optional, open-ended questions towards the end of the application provide applicants the space and opportunity to voluntarily elaborate on either their political party affiliation (or lack thereof) or their desire to serve as a commissioner. Crucially, these questions are optional, and if an applicant chooses not to answer they will not be removed from the pool of eligible applicants. It is entirely up to the applicant whether or not they would like to complete either or both of the optional questions.
These two optional, open-ended prompts allow applicants to provide additional information to the public and the legislative leaders (who will exercise limited strikes from the semi-finalist pool). Because the applications of the 200 randomly-selected semi-finalists will be made public, these questions provide space for applicants to provide information on their own terms prior to facing public scrutiny.
Q: Why does the application ask questions like the following: “The Michigan Constitution states ‘each commissioner shall perform his or her duties in a manner that is impartial and reinforces public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.’ If selected, are you able to conduct yourself accordingly? Yes No”
The question above and other questions in the “What to expect if you’re selected” section of the application are pulled directly from various sections of the constitution enumerating constitutional responsibilities or roles of commissioners. For example, see MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (10).
Q: What is the role of demographics in the random selection process? Why are the demographic questions “required” as part of the application?
The constitution outlines a specific process for the random selection of the final 13 commissioners. Between June 1 and July 1 of 2020, the Secretary of State is required to “eliminate incomplete applications” and ineligible applications from the pool of applicants. [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (2)(d)(i)
At that point, the Secretary of State is required to randomly select 200 semi-finalist applicants, and “use accepted statistical weighting methods to ensure that the pools, as closely as possible, mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state” [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (2)(d)(ii)]. These 200 applications must be sent to the Legislature no later than July 1, 2020.
Consequently, the demographic questions on the application are required fields and necessary for fulfilling the constitutional requirements of the selection process. Using statewide data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, the independent firm hired by the Secretary of State to perform the random, statistically-weighted selection will utilize available methods to accurately weight applications so that the pool of 200 semi-finalists will be representative of the state.
Q: Will anyone be disqualified because of their identity?
No. Every applicant who is eligible and submits a complete application will have a chance of being randomly selected as one of the 200 semi-finalists. The demographic weighting simply corrects for any major bias in the applicant pool so that the pool of semi-finalists is representative of the state.
Q: Why does the application ask for “Sex: Male/Female” rather than “Gender: Male/Female/Other___”?
The Michigan Constitution requires that the 200 randomly-selected semi-finalists must “mirror, as closely as possible, the geographic and demographic makeup of the state” [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (2)(d)(ii)]. In order to fulfill this requirement, the Secretary of State must have accurate data for the state of Michigan for any demographic identified on the application. While we are sensitive to the concerns of those who have asked this question, the American Community survey of the U.S. Census Bureau currently asks for “sex” and only allows “male/female” as answers. Thus, we are limited to the available data and must ask “Sex: Male/Female.”
Q: Why are the demographic questions limited to those currently listed? Why not ask questions about economic status and education, etc.?
Economic status and education are “economic” and not “demographic” characteristics. Those demographic categories included are ones for which we have data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Q: How were the demographic racial/ethnic categories defined?
The demographic categories listed are based on data from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.
This allows us to compare applicants’ self-defined characteristics with Census data as a comparative value, thus ensuring demographic representativeness of the commission.
Q: How is geographic diversity accounted for in the application?
The application will use zip codes from the permanent voting addresses of applicants to ensure there is geographic diversity in the pool of 200 semi-finalists.
Q: Why is there a notary requirement on the application?
The application must be notarized because the constitution states applicants must “attest under oath” to their qualifications and stated party affiliation [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 2(A)(iii)]. The phrase “attest under oath” has long been understood and interpreted to mean that the oath must be administered by a notary (or clerk or judge).
The Secretary of State shares the concerns of many Michiganders and community groups who worry about this requirement posing a barrier to otherwise interested applicants, which may in turn discourage them from applying. The Department of State is committed to making every effort to connect citizens with notary services, including clear instructions on the application itself about how to get your application notarized and where to find the service for free, including at Secretary of State branch offices. Stay tuned for more updates and details or email us at Redistricting@Michigan.gov.
Q: How will the Secretary of State track applications?
The Department of State is developing a database to track and collect applications. Whether you complete the application online or via paper application, your responses will be catalogued and coded correctly. For example, if you apply online but are one of the randomly selected Michiganders who receive a mailed application, you will still be entered into the database as a mailing recipient for the purposes of the statistically weighted random drawing of 200 semi-finalists in June 2020.
Q: How can citizens trust this process will be administered fairly and without favor to either party?
As a lifelong advocate for independent citizen redistricting, Secretary Benson is committed to ensuring this process is implemented fairly and with transparency so voters can have faith that the application and selection process will not unfairly benefit one party or the other. To that end, Secretary Benson has engaged a third-party, independent accounting firm to administer the actual selection, as well as another third-party, independent accounting firm to double check the work.
Q: Why do we need a redistricting commission? Can’t a computer program simply draw the districts? Can it just be based on county lines?
In November 2018, Michigan voters broadly approved Proposal 2, amending the Michigan Constitution to create an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Secretary Benson is committed to fully carrying out the will of the voters in the implementation of this commission.
Q: What is the role of the Secretary of State once the Commission is formed?
The Secretary of State is the “secretary without a vote” of the Commission once formed. This involves keeping the public record and providing any technical assistance the Commission might need [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (4), (17)].
Q: Will the Secretary of State have power over map drawing?
No, the Secretary of State will merely serve as a “secretary without a vote.” [MI Constitution, Article IV, Section 6 (4)]. The Commission is independent and autonomous. Only commissioners can instruct, vote on, or otherwise make any substantive decisions about map drawing.
Q: What if I don’t want to be a commissioner – can I still be involved?
Yes. Citizen involvement throughout the redistricting process is critical to ensuring it is independent and fair. If you are ineligible to serve as a commissioner, or if you apply and are not selected, you will still be able to submit maps to the Commission for consideration and otherwise advocate for your interests before the Commission. The Department of State will be working throughout the redistricting process to provide and develop meaningful opportunities for citizen input and involvement. Please sign up to receive updates on how to stay involved.