Benson outlines online application process, gives timeline for redistricting commission member selection

Protesters attends a rally for "Fair Maps" on March 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. The rally was part of the Supreme Court hearings in landmark redistricting cases out of North Carolina and Maryland | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Thursday outlined a newly-launched online application process for citizens interested in a seat on Michigan’s independent redistricting commission. 

At a news conference in Lansing, Benson and other community leaders detailed the online application and laid out their timeline for the commission’s implementation.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announces details of Michigan’s new Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission on Oct. 24, 2019 | Claire Moore

“Last fall, millions of Michiganders voted to give citizens the power to draw our legislative districts, and now it is time to apply to be one of those citizens,” Benson said. 

Plans for a voter-led independent commission to redraw district maps have been in the works since November 2018, when 61% of Michigan voters said “yes” to implement Proposal 2. The ballot initiative was headed by voting rights nonprofit Voters Not Politicians.

Voters Not Politicians is now in the early stages of talks with GOP lawmakers and business groups — some of whom still have lawsuits pending against the new commission — about a new initiative to expand legislative term limits and other possible ethics reforms. 

GOP leaders, anti-gerrymandering group meet on expanding term limits

Benson said she isn’t concerned about the commission’s implementation possibly being affected by the lawsuits because she believes her office is “solid in our legal rounding” and has a responsibility to “further the work of the people” who voted for the commission. 

The State Department has rules for those who wish to apply. Applicants must be registered voters. Disqualifiers from applying include running for partisan office, lobbying on behalf of the Legislature, being a precinct delegate and serving as an officer for a political party. 

A list of Michigan notaries providing services for free can be found here.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announces details of Michigan’s new Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission on Oct. 24, 2019 | Claire Moore

The commission itself will be composed of 13 randomly-selected citizens whose responsibilities are to draw district lines for the U.S. Congress and both bodies of the Michigan Legislature. 

The 13 individuals — broken down to four Democrats, four Republicans and five people with no party affiliation  — will be selected by fall 2020. They’ll each be paid $40,000 as compensation for their work. 

Other states like Arizona, California and Colorado also have independent commissions for redistricting.

The online application launch joins other State Department efforts – public forums, a statewide educational push and soon, invitations by mail — to encourage public participation in redrawing Michigan’s district lines. 

Benson outlines redistricting commission process, stresses need for funding from Legislature

Benson told reporters that her office will give updates on applicant numbers in the coming months. Benson said her intention is to secure enough funding from her colleagues in the Legislature for the commission.

“That’s our hope and intention,” Benson said. “It’s finding creative ways to partner with community organizations to meet what we need.”

Per Michigan’s Constitution, each online application must be printed and signed in the presence of a notary, Benson said. To make the process easier, Benson said all Michigan Secretary of State offices will offer free notary services beginning Dec. 1.

Barb Byrum

Ingham County Clerk Barbara Byrum — who spoke on behalf of other fellow election officials — said additional city, county and township clerk offices will also offer instructions on notarizing applications. 

“We’re committed to making every effort to connect citizens with notary services, including clear instructions on the application about how to get your application notarized and where to find the service for free, including at our offices,” Byrum said. 

Per a timeline from Benson’s office, commissioners would redraw district maps following the 2020 Census and establish completed maps before the 2022 election cycle. 

  • Jan. 1., 2020 — Applications to serve on the commission will be mailed to at least 10,000 Michigan registered voters at random.
  • July 1, 2020 — Deadline for accepting applications.
  • Deadline for the Department of State to post 200 randomly selected semi-finalists online and to provide the list to legislative leadership for one month of review. 
  • Aug. 1, 2020 — Deadline for legislative leaders (including the Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader) to exercise up to five strikes each and return the list of finalists to the department. 
  • Sept. 1, 2020 — Deadline for randomly selecting the 13 commissioners.
  • Oct. 15, 2020 — Commissioners must hold first meeting by this date.
  • Nov. 1, 2021 — Deadline for the commission to adopt a redistricting plan for Michigan State House, Michigan State Senate and U.S. Congressional Districts.
  • Dec. 13, 2021 — Maps become law and take effect for 2020 election cycle.
Nancy Wang, Voters Not Politicians | Claire Moore

The U.S. Supreme Court this week officially overturned a lower court ruling that would have required new congressional and legislative maps for next year. 

In a statement, Voters Not Politicians Executive Director Nancy Wang encouraged Michigan citizens to apply for a commission seat.

“We are thrilled to see the vision of thousands of volunteers who worked to pass the redistricting reform amendment, and the millions of Michigan voters who voted for it, come to fruition,” Wang said. “After decades of having some of the worst gerrymandered maps in the country, Michigan is now poised to have a fair, impartial, transparent, and citizen-led redistricting process that will be a model for other states.”

C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.