June 16, 2011 Bookmark and Share

House Dems: Republicans Deny Voters' Rights With Rushed Redistricting

Legislators demand transparency, time for public to give input

LANSING - In an effort to stop Republicans from rushing new redistricting plans through the Legislature without public scrutiny and input, House Democrats today demanded that residents across the state be allowed adequate time and access to examine and critique the proposed maps. House Republicans plan to turn in their redrawn maps to officials on Friday but will not say how residents or legislators can view them in time for committee hearings next week and a House vote by the end of the month.

“Redistricting will have profound effects on every part of our state for at least the next ten years, and Republicans have no valid reason to jam their maps through the House in less than two weeks,” said State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga), Democratic Vice Chair of the House Redistricting and Elections Committee. “Republicans have set an artificial and arbitrary deadline. Residents’ rights can only be protected through a redistricting process that is nonpartisan, transparent and allows for public input - but Republicans have insisted on the exact opposite.”

In Michigan, the Legislature is in charge of redistricting, which takes place every 10 years based on population shifts shown by the Census. Since Republicans are in charge of the House and Senate, they control which maps are approved.

Despite concerns from numerous nonpartisan organizations and experts that Michigan’s redistricting process disserves residents because it is too secretive, exclusive and partisan, Republicans have refused to discuss ways to reform it. In January, the House rejected a plan that Byrum proposed to increase transparency and public participation in redistricting.

State Representative Woodrow Stanley (D-Flint), also a member of the Redistricting and Elections Committee, said Republican legislators are violating the principle that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.

“While we understand that Michigan will lose representation because we’ve lost population, the issue is quality, not quantity,” Stanley said. “Residents deserve representation that reflects them and their district, not politicians who simply claim the seat because their party won the right to redraw the lines. With the number of minority voters growing over the past decade, we have to be especially vigilant that those voters are not disenfranchised by a process that has taken place so quickly and secretly that it can only produce biased results.”

State Representative Fred Durhal Jr. (D-Detroit), and Chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, said concerns about gerrymandering are widespread in his community.

“It is unacceptable that the party in charge has so far rejected efforts to make redistricting the fair, nonpartisan and transparent process that it should be,” Durhal said. “Taxpayers are paying for the development of these new maps and they have the right to be full observers and participants in the process. District lines must be drawn in ways that serve the interests of our residents, not those of politicians, because residents are the ones who will be affected for years to come.”

State Representative David Nathan (D-Detroit), said there is no excuse for Republicans holding committee meetings only four days after presenting their proposed redistricting maps.

“By now, we know this is what to expect from House Republicans - rushing legislation through with no time for thorough examination by residents or the legislators who represent them, and no time for meaningful public input or debate,” said Nathan, who serves on the Redistricting and Elections Committee. “There are no good explanations for wanting to complete Michigan’s redistricting plans so quickly. If it’s to prevent public scrutiny and input, that’s unacceptable. If it’s to put fellow legislators at a disadvantage, that’s unacceptable. And if it’s to take a summer break sooner, that’s definitely unacceptable.”

State Representative Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) also urged Republicans to stop rushing the redistricting process.

“Numerous nonpartisan Michigan organizations and experts have advocated for a more transparent and fair redistricting process that involves the public,” said Townsend, who has introduced legislation to reform redistricting. “The proposed maps should be made available online and at hearings around the state so residents can give input before the House committee considers them. Legislators drawing districts for themselves is a huge conflict of interest that must not stand, and my legislation would address this problem. However, there is still time right now for our Republican colleagues to take steps so our residents can have more faith in the process and be sure that their voices are heard.”


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