8 lessons for Michigan from California’s redistricting commission

Detroit Free Press | February 16, 2020

Michigan voters approved the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission in the 2018 election. Past redistricting efforts have been led by the state Legislature, which — for the last decade — has resulted in some of the nation’s most gerrymandered legislative districts.

During a meeting with four of 14 California redistricting commissioners, a couple of takeaways emerged, for Michiganders who hope to serve on the commission, or to offer input on the state’s new legislative maps.


Members of the California Citizen Redistricting Commission come from wildly different backgrounds. The delegation we saw included an almond farmer, a tech strategist, an urban planner, an architect, a group nearly as diverse as California itself.

That’s why it worked, they say.

Californians who came to meetings saw their own identities represented on the commission. It helped to build trust.

But none of that could have happened if Californians hadn’t applied.

Managing commission meetings and the responsibilities of regular life wasn’t easy — unlike California’s commissioners, Michigan’s will draw a $40,000 annual salary — but each made it work.

Your state is more complex than you know

Members of the California redistricting commission knew their state was diverse. But there was still more to learn about layered identities in the state’s rural and urban areas, from Los Angeles’ recognized neighborhood councils to a Hmong farming community in the northern part of the state. To authentically represent California, it was essential to connect with those diverse communities and solicit input for the process.

Treat everyone the same

Redistricting work aims to keep communities of interest together. But defining those communities can be challenging, so the commission held a series of meetings to allow Californians to offer input. At those meetings, everyone was treated the same. Elected officials, community members, business leaders and party operatives were each allotted two minutes for input.

Participate authentically

There’s no question, commission members said, that representatives of some special interests tried to game the system, flying under false flags to conceal their political or industrial affiliations.

It didn’t work, commission members said, because the process was public and participants’ real affiliations were readily identified by viewers monitoring the proceedings. Their efforts would have been better spent in authentic participation, because all voices were valued in the process.

Learn how to participate meaningfully

California foundations funded community training sessions to help residents offer meaningful input. To testify to the cohesion of a community, commissioners say, requires more than anecdotes. Maps and other data help. Michigan should offer similar training.

Radical transparency

That’s the other essential piece, commission members said. Meetings were held in public, and resident input was given at those meetings. There weren’t closed-door decisions or opaque processes.

Better government is good for business

After redistricting, California’s log-jammed state Legislature began to function more smoothly and the state’s bond rating went up. Business leaders shouldn’t worry about redistricting, say conservative commissioners, because better government provides the stability business needs.

Show people their input matters

For residents to participate, they have to believe that their input matters. At some meetings, commissioners say, changes were made to the redistricting map on a live screen. In one instance, when three community groups contested borders, the commission asked the groups to decide among themselves where the boundaries should be, rather than imposing a top-down solution.

It is, after all, a citizens commission.

View Original Publication: Detroit Free Press