New Map Deep Dive: Michigan

As part of our redistricting series, today we’re taking a closer look at the Wolverine State: Michigan!

Quick History Lesson

In 2011, Michigan Republicans drew one of the most egregiously rigged maps in the country, which one federal court called “a gerrymander of historical proportions.” 

A federal lawsuit later unearthed emails between Republicans involved in the redistricting process with plans to “cram ALL of the Dem garbage” into just a few districts and “give the middle finger” to Democrats they didn’t like. It worked.

For example: In 2014, State House Democrats won 30,000 more votes than State House Republicans, but the GOP maintained a 63-47 advantage. In 2016, with vote totals split between the two parties, Democrats still did not pick up any seats. 

But the GOP seriously underestimated the people of Michigan.

Two days after Trump’s election, 27 year-old political novice Katie Fahey posted on Facebook: “I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you’re interested in doing this as well please let me know.” 

The enormous response became Voters Not Politicians, the grassroots group that gathered over 400,000 signatures to put redistricting reform on the 2018 ballot. That November, the ballot measure overhauling the redistricting process won with 61 percent of the vote.

Drawing the Lines

The ballot measure took redistricting out of the hands of legislators and gave it to the 13-member Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) – four Democrats, four Republicans, and five independents.

The ballot measure text also required the adopted maps to be approved by at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents. This avoids the situation in Arizona where one so-called “independent” can swing the process one way or the other.

After a decade of rigged maps drawn behind closed doors, the transparency of the MICRC was a breath of fresh air. Still, commissioners struggled to balance competitiveness and other factors while still preserving majority-minority districts. They adopted new maps in December, but a group of elected officials is already suing, saying the maps dilute the voices of Black voters.

2022 Outlook

The New York Times said it best: “One of the country’s most gerrymandered political maps has suddenly been replaced by one of the fairest.” 

The Brennan Center’s Michael Li adds: “Michigan is a jump-ball state, and this is a jump-ball map.”

Of the new maps we’ve seen so far, Michigan is our best chance to flip a chamber from red to blue. Based on recent election results, Democrats are favored in 20 out of 38 new Senate districts and 57 out of 110 new House Districts. 

Because of Michigan’s term limits and the way the map groups incumbents together, there are also a lot of OPEN seats. Right now, there are 14 in the Senate and 47 in the House. Those numbers will change as incumbents decide to shift districts or throw in the towel.

At this time, the most competitive Senate seats appear to be 4, 9, 11, and 35. If the tie-breaking Lt. Governor stays a Democrat, we need to net three for a majority – if not, we need four.

In the House, districts 22, 38, 44, 48, 58, 76, 83, and 84 are likely to be competitive. Democrats need to net three to force a power-sharing agreement and four to gain an outright majority.

What started as one of the most demoralizing cases of gerrymandering in the country became one of the most inspiring stories in American politics. We’ll be watching Michigan closely in 2022!

P.S. If you missed our deep dive into the new legislative maps in Arizona, you can read it on the blog here.