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Get Ready for Census Day and New Political Boundaries

September 16, 2009

Following the 2010 census, Michigan likely will lose one of its 15 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state legislature and governor or courts will decide how to collapse 15 districts into 14. It is, therefore, anyone’s guess as to which congresspersons see their districts remain pretty much intact, somewhat reconfigured, greatly reconfigured, or evaporate.

Having dabbled in the past with redistricting options, I can hardly resist taking a premature stab at how boundaries could change following the 2010 census.

My criteria in sketching out 14 new congressional districts are:

  • Follow U.S. Census Bureau 2008 estimates of county population. In the case of Detroit and other cities, the last estimate took place in 2006.
  • Protect the two minority-majority districts held by African Americans (Conyers and Kilpatrick) in the Detroit area.
  • Split county lines as infrequently as possible.
  • Keep districts relatively compact and, to the extent possible, provide some coherence to a single media market.
  • Avoid partisan bias, but attempt to make some districts more competitive.
  • Retain some semblance of existing districts to afford residents a basis of familiarity.

I mention several caveats…

One, population estimates are not the end-all, be-all, which is why we have decennial and formal censuses. If the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections in 2008 are close to the mark, Michigan’s share of the nation’s population has declined this decade, stripping us of one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (from 15 to 14). Our share of the American population could move up or down during 2009 and 2010, but a good bet is that we continue to lose ground.

In a worst case scenario, we lose two seats; in the best case scenario, we eke out 15 seats; and in the most likely one, we lose one seat in reapportionment. (Note: Reapportionment is not the same as redistricting, even though many people use the words interchangeably. Reapportionment is the process by which states are allotted seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Redistricting is the process that reconfigures U.S. House, state legislative, county commission, and other population-based districts.)

Two, protecting two congressional districts in which minority groups outnumber majority groups, Detroit’s population is pivotal. To assure that minorities form majorities in two districts, my hypothetical plan extends Mr. Conyers’ district into southern Oakland County. In Oakland’s southeastern cities, such as Southfield and Oak Park, African Americans are more numerous than in Wayne County suburbs, such as Dearborn and Livonia.

Three, the U.S. Supreme Court has boiled down redistricting to a finite tune. You cannot allow a deviation of population between a state’s largest and smallest congressional district that exceeds one person. There is no way to respect jurisdictional boundaries of counties, townships, or cities given such a rigid guideline. That provides enormous leeway to political parties and judges to pooh-pooh jurisdictional boundaries.

Four, after countless iterations of a congressional plan for 14 districts, I stopped the analization about precise population. Each district houses a population of about 714,500 except the 8th District, with an estimated population of 714,800. I am a sucker for rounding to the nearest 100.

What are the big takeaways from my plan, district by district? Note that the district numbers represent the 14 districts in the hypothetical plan, not necessarily the current numbering.

First District
Bart Stupak’s district, already one of the biggest land acreages in the nation, will devour more land to absorb more people. It’s declining in population relative to the state as a whole. As there is nowhere to go north short of annexing Ontario, Wisconsin, or Minnesota, the district must grow south. To lessen travel distance, I move the Lower Peninsula portion to the west to avoid going even farther south.

Second and Third districts
The districts of Congressmen Hoekstra and Ehlers do not change much.

Fourth District
Because the First District absorbs more people in the Lower Peninsula, Congressman Camp’s district moves south. It cedes the Traverse City area and acquires Bay City, the City of Saginaw, and Gratiot County. For the first time in ages, the Tri Cities (Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland) would be in the same congressional district.

Fifth District
Congressman Kildee’s district is losing population relative to the state and will have to grow. The plan I concoct removes the cities of Saginaw and Bay City and Tuscola County and substitutes Shiawassee and Livingston counties. That make it more Republican than the current one, although Genesee County remains nearly intact and accounts for nearly 60 percent of the district’s population

Sixth District
Congressman Upton benefits from a corner district, not easily fractionated. My plan adds more of Calhoun County and all of Branch County and cedes quite a bit of Allegan County. There is not much that one can do to make it more competitive between the political parties.

Seventh District
The districts of Congressmen Schauer (7th) and Congressman Rogers (8th) significantly change. The 7th loses considerable territory to the east (Lenawee and Washtenaw counties) and much of Calhoun County and heads north to acquire all of Ingham County. Ingham currently is in the 8th District. The eastern portion of the 8th (Livingston County) is lumped in with Genesee County. The design helps to ground the district within a common media market (Lansing-Jackson) and keeps it relatively compact.

Eighth District
Congressman Peters’ district gives up northeast sections of Oakland County, and those sections meld with western Macomb County into a new District 10 (see below). This moves his district west, but it stays entirely within Oakland County.

Ninth District
Congresswoman Miller’s 10th District (renumbered) is bounded to the east by Lake Huron. The plan adds considerably more of Macomb County, clinging to the eastern portions of the county and possibly stretching south as far as Eight Mile Road.

Tenth District
To add blacks in southeast Oakland County to Congressman Conyers’ district (the new 12th), a new district is created that combines portions of western Macomb and northeast Oakland County. Congressman Levin’s base in southeastern Oakland County evaporates, and the district takes in more Republican territory to the north in both counties.

Eleventh District
Now numbered the 13th, this is held by Congresswoman Kilpatrick. With Detroit’s expected population loss, this district moves more deeply into Wayne County suburbs. While now it takes jurisdictions along the Detroit River, it absorbs considerably more people living in the south-central part of the county. Still, nearly two-thirds of its people are Detroiters.

Twelfth District
As mentioned earlier, to protect the black majority of Congressman Conyers’ district, the plan pushes the district into southeast Oakland County, rather than extending his district farther south or west in Wayne County’s suburbs. Southfield and Oak Park have large black majorities. The district then cedes its Wayne County suburbs to the 13th District.

Thirteenth District
The plan creates a new district entirely within Wayne County. The current district of Congressman Dingell (15th) moves from Dearborn south to the Ohio line (including Monroe County) and west to capture Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Congressman McCotter’s district (11th) encompasses southwestern Oakland County and north-central Wayne County. There is sufficient population within out-Wayne to substantiate a district that does not break so many county lines.

Fourteenth District
This is not terribly dissimilar to the current 15th district, but it takes in a much smaller slice of Wayne County and adds all of Washtenaw, Lenawee, and Monroe counties.
Robert Frost opined that good fences make good neighbors. Fences that must be moved to redistrict make for high anxiety and maybe less neighborliness.

I would be pleased by submittals to improve any or all of this premature, hypothetical mapping.


Regular Dome columnist Craig Ruff is, among many things, a senior policy fellow and former president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.



4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sylvia McCollough // Sep 19, 2009 at 7:52 am

    I remember all too well when district lines were still up in the air come filing time, and Burton Leland wound up filing in two districts…..way back when?

    Interesting analysis Craig, can’t wait to see how it all shapes up. Thanks for sharing!

  • 2 Map? // Sep 21, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Could someone produce a graphical map of these districts?

  • 3 Lynn Ochberg // Sep 25, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Yes, I’d love to be in Shauer;s district instead of Roger’s, the better to defeat the embarrassing Walberg. I hope your Ingham County proposal succeeds.

  • 4 Barb O'Kelly // Mar 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Looks very logical! Had to be two incumbents competing–am I right that this would be Kildee and Rogers? And of course, other districts will be competitive with the new constituents.

    Thanks, Craig!

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