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Independent Redistricting Off to Rocky Start in Michigan

April 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Bruce Adelson (University of Pittsburgh School of Law)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s first-ever, independent citizens redistricting commission got off to a rocky start earlier this month after its decision to hire an alleged Democratic activist as an advisor inspired a strong backlash from the state’s Republican party.

The commission, which is responsible for redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts, approved the hiring of Bruce Adelson, a Maryland-based voting rights lawyer, to advise it on the redistricting process.

Almost immediately, the Michigan Republican Party and every Republican member of the state’s congressional delegation cried foul, pointing to Adelson’s campaign contributions and his alleged partisan rhetoric in both social media posts and academic writings, as proof of his bias.

State GOP officials went so far as to characterize Adelson as “an unchecked liberal voice on this allegedly non-partisan commission.”

Adelson’s supporters, meanwhile, noted that his contributions were no secret. In fact, a disclosure of all his campaign contributions were part of his application to work for the commission.

The disclosure reveals that Adelson donated $125 to Democrat Jocelyn Benson’s successful 2018 campaign for Michigan secretary of state and $30 to Joe Biden in 2020. 

He also made donations to a Michigan district judge candidate and a Republican county commissioner in Colorado.

On April 15, the redistricting commission voted on a resolution to reconsider Adelson’s hire, but in the end the panel split 5-4 in favor of keeping him on.

Ron Weiser, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, said afterwards that while he was disappointed in the outcome, he was encouraged to see bipartisan support for the reconsideration vote.

“If the Commission keeps Adelson, it should bring on a second Republican attorney to remove any appearance of partisan political bias,” he said.

But Bruce Adelson wasn’t the only controversy the new commission weathered in its first hours.

It also drew criticism for rejecting a request to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before commission meetings.

Brittni Kellom, the commission chair, said she would not be happy reciting something “as contentious” as the Pledge of Allegiance.

Democratic Commissioner Dustin Witjis, also disagreed with the request to recite the pledge, citing his dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Netherlands.

Prior to its first meeting, the Michigan redistricting commission joined Benson in asking the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline for adopting new congressional and legislative districts.

Under the state constitution, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission must propose congressional and legislative maps by Sept. 17 and adopt the final maps by Nov. 1. 

Because of COVID-19-related delays, the Census Bureau says it will deliver the data needed to undertake redistricting to the states by Sept. 30, six months past the deadline in federal law.

The monthslong, unprecedented delay in the census data creates a conflict with meeting Michigan’s constitutional deadlines for redistricting.

The commission’s petition for relief offered a new timeline to accommodate the delay in which it would propose redistricting plans by Dec. 11 and adopt final plans following 45 days of public comment by Jan. 25, 2022.

The proposed timeline would not change the filing deadline. Candidates filing nominating petitions for the August 2022 primary would still have to file by April 19, 2022.

Michigan’s independent citizens redistricting commission was created in 2018 after state residents approved a proposal to take redistricting power away from the legislature.

The group of five independents, four Republicans and four Democrats was chosen on Monday and will have enormous power to craft Michigan’s political districts. The decisions from this commission will affect the lawmakers elected, and subsequently the policies passed, for the next decade.

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