LANSING — Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Friday she has proposed a settlement in a federal gerrymandering lawsuit that is limited in scope and will only affect 11 state House districts.
Michigan Republicans have come out strongly against a settlement between Benson and the Michigan League of Women Voters, saying that with the change in the Secretary of State’s Office in the November election, there is no longer a dispute between Benson, now the defendant in the case, and the league, represented by attorney Mark Brewer, a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.
But one of the biggest Republican concerns was that the proposed settlement would force state Senate elections in 2020, two years ahead of schedule. That’s not part of the settlement, which also does not affect current congressional districts.
Of the 11 House districts that would be redrawn for the 2020 election, five are currently held by Democrats and six by Republicans. Michigan’s new redistricting commission, approved in the November election, will draw lines for the 2022 elections.
Benson said she wanted to settle the lawsuit because the case was about to go to trial and she didn’t want to add more public expense from a trial and didn’t want to have to defend maps that she doesn’t believe were constitutionally drawn. She wanted a limited settlement to minimize the impact and upheaval on the 2020 election, she said.
Benson said close to $900,000 in state funds has been spent defending the lawsuit to date.
The Michigan Republican Party quickly came out against the proposed settlement.
“This settlement clearly is an attempt by Jocelyn Benson and the Democrats to try and steal the State House of Representatives in 2020,” said party spokesman Tony Zammit.
“The Democrats know it will be nearly impossible to redraw these 11 districts without affecting countless others causing electoral chaos,” he said. “Worse yet, outdated 10-year-old data will be utilized to draw the new lines which will not accurately reflect the demographics of our state.”
Republicans said they want Benson replaced as the defendant in the case.
Benson said if the case were to go to trial, the likely outcome would be a judgment in favor of the League of Women Voters that would result in much more upheaval for the 2020 election than her proposed settlement.
The proposed settlement would have to be approved by a three-judge panel in federal court. Republicans could appeal any settlement to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The maps will be redrawn by the Legislature and then sent to the court for approval, Benson said at a news conference in Lansing.
“As the state’s chief election officer, I have a responsibility to ensure our elections operate in a manner that is fair, accessible and in compliance with the constitutional mandate of one person, one vote,” Benson said in a news release.
“I believe today’s settlement strikes a balance between recognizing the unconstitutionality of the 2011 redistricting maps while reaching a remedy that is limited in scope and impact given the length of time these districts have been in place.”
The state House districts that would be redrawn under the proposed agreement are the 24th, 32nd, 51st, 55th, 60th, 63rd, 76th, 91st, 92nd, 94th, and 95th. Benson said it would be up to the Legislature to decide whether adjacent districts would have to be redrawn as a result of redrawing those districts.
The 24th, in Macomb County, is held by Rep. Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township. The 32nd, in St. Clair County, is held by Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township. The 51st, in Genesee County, is held by Rep.Mike Mueller, R-Linden. The 55th, in Washtenaw County, is held by Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor. The 60th, in Kalmazoo County, is held by Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo. The 63rd, in Calhoun County, is held by Rep. Matt Hall, R-Emmett Township. The 76th, in Kent County, is held by Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids. The 91st, in Muskegon County, is held by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, R-Norton Shores. The 92nd, in Muskegon County, is held by Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon. The 94th, in Saginaw County, is held by Rep. Rodney Wakeman, R-Saginaw Township. The 95th, in Saginaw County, is held by Rep. Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw.
The Michigan League of Women Voters and a group of Democrats filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit in 2017, alleging Michigan’s congressional and state electoral districts are unlawfully gerrymandered.
The lawsuit against Michigan’s chief election official — who was then Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson — was the latest effort in Michigan and around the country to try to undo the drawing of election maps in ways proponents say have disenfranchised voters and unfairly disadvantaged Democrats to the advantage of Republicans.
In November, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment to create an independent citizen redistricting commission, which will draw maps for the 2022 elections and those going forward.
Severe partisan gerrymandering in Michigan violates federal constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law, the suit alleged.
It singles out “Michigan Democrats based on their political affiliation, and intentionally places them in voting districts that reduce or eliminate the power of their votes,” the suit alleged.
The suit called on the court to strike down current Michigan redistricting laws and draw up new election maps if a constitutional redistricting plan is not put in place.
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