Nov 15, 2022 - Politics

How redistricting helped Democrats flip Michigan

A hand drawing gerrymandered maps

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Abortion on the ballot and the popularity of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is taking much of the credit for Michigan's Democratic trifecta at the midterms — but Dems also have the end of unfair political boundaries to thank.

What happened: Redistricting reform leveled the playing field, Nancy Wang, director of Voters Not Politicians, tells Axios. When people turned out and chose the candidates of their choice, that choice was actually reflected in the results, she says.

  • "What we've seen in the last decade is more democratic votes actually being cast, but then because of gerrymandering those votes didn't translate to seats."

Catch up quick: Michigan's congressional and legislative districts, once drawn behind closed doors by the Legislature and subject to the governor's veto power, were redrawn last year following the passage of Prop 2 in 2018, which created the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Yes, but: Though they did make districts fairer for Democrats, Michigan's new maps aren't popular with everyone.

  • Black Democrats from around Detroit sued the commission, casting the new maps which shrunk the number of Black seats as "racial gerrymandering" that reduced the voting power of minority racial groups.
  • The Michigan Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision threw out that legal challenge in February.
  • Michigan Republicans also made an unsuccessful legal challenge against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional maps, which they said didn't include equal population sizes.

What they're saying: "At the strategy level in 2017, when we were working on anti-gerrymandering, we had an idea that we could change the political landscape of the state if we fixed the way our electoral maps were drawn," Joe Spaulding, who worked on the effort to pass Prop 2 in 2018, tells Axios.

  • Wang thinks Republicans were able to hold legislative control for four decades not because they had more support, but "because the Republican Party had gerrymandered and rigged our elections from the start, so that they were assured of getting the majority regardless of how many Democratic voters showed up," Wang says.

💭 Sam's thought bubble: The effects of the new maps were perhaps best highlighted in my hometown, Midland and Bay counties. Democrat Kristen MacDonald Rivet of Bay City beat Republican Annette Glenn of Midland in the new Democratic-leaning district 11th Senate District.

  • The new district was a Republican stronghold my entire life until Gov. Whitmer won by a comfortable margin last week. The old maps had separated the tri-cities (Midland, Bay City and Saginaw) into three Republican-majority districts.

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