Eight Detroiters remain potential candidates for Michigan’s first Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The semifinalists are among 180 Michiganders remaining in the applicant pool who have zero ties to Michigan’s current political atmosphere. Applicants were not allowed to be affiliated, or have close association with, any candidate, elected official, consultant, or be an employee of a lobbying firm or the legislature for the past six years to qualify. The Detroiters who remain in the process range in age from 32 to 72 and all but two are listed as Democrats. They are split evenly among males and females and six of the eight are Black. According to the Secretary of State, more than 9,300 registered voters applied to sit on the commission. The commissioners are expected to be seated by Sept. 1 and will redraw Michigan district lines rather than the state Legislature.
Lamont Corbin, who remains in the applicant pool, said he applied to be a commissioner because he wanted to ensure there was an equitable process.
“Prior to submitting my name I noticed that the racial makeup of the submissions were predominantly white — almost 80% and outside of the tri-city area, which doesn’t reflect the population at-large demographically, especially when these decisions will impact acutely where people of color reside,” Corbin wrote in a message to BridgeDetroit.
For the optional essay portion of the application, four of the remaining Detroiters wrote a response. One identified as a pastor who wanted to “be of good service to the community.” Two others said gerrymandering prevented the integrity of communities, and one said they believed in the power of citizens to make change.
“The process is going very well, fully transparent, and the near 10,000 applications demonstrated the public’s great enthusiasm for the commission,” said Jake Rollow, director of communications and external affairs for the Secretary of State.
Michigan voters supported a ballot proposal to create a citizen-led redistricting commission to thwart gerrymandering in 2018. In Michigan’s past, Republicans have typically been favored during the Legislature-driven district mapping process.
There were 200 semifinalists determined in June based on the requirement to have half the applicants from those who received a random mailing about the process and the other half from elsewhere. Just one of the eight remaining Detroiters received a random mailing.
Now, a computer will randomly select the final 13 commissioners, ensuring that the group represents the state’s geographic, political and population demographics. The population’s statistical variables include race, sex, and age of commissioners. The computer must also determine that 30 percent of commissioners are Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans and 40 percent unaffiliated. When considering geographic variables, Wayne County makes up just over 17 percent of the state’s population while southeast Michigan, which includes Oakland, Macomb, and eight other counties, makes up just over 35 percent of Michigan’s population.
The Secretary of State’s Office live-streamed the random selection which can now be found on YouTube.
Of those who applied across the state: 45 percent were women and 55 percent were male; 78 percent identify as White, 13 percent Black, 5 percent two or more races, 2 percent Asian, 1% other, and less than 1 percent American Indian or Alaska Native; 12 percent were within the age range of 18 to 34, 27 percent were 35 to 54, and 61 percent were 55 or older. There were 1,450 applicants from Wayne County.
Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said the applicant pool is diverse and the process has followed the state’s Constitutional obligations. The former University of Michigan law professor said Voters Not Politicians, whose volunteers were influential in getting the commission’s proposal on the 2018 ballot, will work to help individuals in Michigan gain and use the tools needed for active civic participation.
“What will be even more important, and what VNP is focusing on now, is encouraging the public to actively participate and make their voices heard in the map drawing process, so that the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has the information it needs to draw maps that accurately reflect Michigan communities,” Wang said in an email to BridgeDetroit.
Nine Detroiters were originally chosen to be semifinalists, but Richard Diggs was personally rejected by Rep. Lee Chatfield, the Republican Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. According to Diggs’ application and essay responses, he is a 31-year-old Black male and unaffiliated with any political party. His application states he graduated from Edwin Denby High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University before completing a law degree at New York University where his work on redistricting commissions was published.
Diggs did not respond to a request for comment about his rejection from the applicant pool.
Chatfield, the Senate Majority Leader and the Senate Minority Leaders were each allowed to strike up to five applicants from the applicant pool without reason.
Chatfield’s communications team did not immediately respond to questions for comment.
Orlando Bailey contributed to this story.