Thirteen commissioners who will serve on Michigan’s first independent redistricting commission were selected in a random drawing Monday afternoon.
The commissioners – four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents – will be responsible for drawing district lines for the Michigan House of Representatives, the Michigan Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that will be in effect for the next decade, beginning with the 2022 midterm elections.
Previously, state legislators would be responsible for creating district lines. But Michigan voters passed an amendment to the state Constitution in 2018 to give that power to an independent commission instead, arguing it would lead to less gerrymandering.
In 2018, Democratic candidates for the state House received more votes than the Republican candidates, but won fewer seats.
More than 9,300 Michigan residents applied to serve on the commission, and a random pool of 200 candidates was selected in June. Twenty of the 200 semifinalists were struck from the list by legislative leaders, as allowed under the constitutional amendment.
In total the commission consists of six women and seven men. Two of the commissioners are Black, one identified their ethnicity as “other,” and the remaining ten are white.
None of the commissioners are from the Upper Peninsula.
The four Democrats selected were M. Rothhorn, Juanita Curry, Dustin Witjes and Brittni Kellom. Two of the Democrats selected are women, and two are Black.
Kellom, one of the two Black individuals selected for the commission, said in her application that she “believes in the power of everyday citizens to effect change in the places in which they live.”
“I believe in the type of innovation that comes from both collaboration and holding space for others,” Kellom continued.
The four Republicans chosen were Erin Wagner, Cynthia Orton, Douglas Clark and Rhona Lange. Three of the Republicans selected are women, and all are white.
Clark, one of the oldest commissioners at 73, along with two of the independents who are the same age, said in his application that he brings “objectivity, an ability to work with others and an honest and sincere approach to addressing the issues of the commission.”
The five independents selected were Janice Vallette, James Decker, Richard Weiss, Steven Lett and Anthony Eid. One of the independent commissioners is a woman, and one of the independents registered their ethnicity as “other.”
Eid, the youngest commissioner at 27, said in his application that he “would like to become involved in the political process in an unbiased, unpartisan, evidence based way.”
Decker said in his application that he applied because the population in Michigan has become “very polarized and disengaged.”
“We need to work to put aside preconceptions, naivety and prejudices o consider other points of view or opinions that may not always agree with our own so that there can be negotiation, consensus and a little give and take, as life is imperfect and you have to try and make the best of it for as many people as you can,” Decker said. “As a society it is easier to complain and castigate, and much harder to work and find solutions to problems. I prefer to solve problems.”
“This is truly a historic day for Michigan, as we are among the first states in the nation to end gerrymandering with an independent citizens commission,” said Assistant Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler. “I am hopeful that the same enthusiasm we saw during the application process will continue when the Commission begins meeting this fall, and that commissioners will be bolstered by public input as they make our election districts more fair for all Michiganders.”
The commission is required to convene its first meeting by Oct. 15. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will serve as the nonvoting secretary of the commission.
The commissioners will spend the first months “establishing a committee structure and procedures, hiring staff and outside experts and developing a plan for citizen engagement,” per the Secretary of State’s website.
The commission will be required to hold at least 15 forums and town halls throughout the state to field public input on the new maps.
Members of the public will be able to submit their own maps to the commission for consideration.
The commission must finalize the new district lines no later than Nov. 1, 2021.