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Michigan: Protecting Fair Elections and Reproductive Freedom

March 13, 2024 11:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Written by Marilyn Go (voting) and Vivian Lewis (reproductive freedom);

Edited by Jim Harbison and Jacki Swearingen

Although frequently described as a bellwether state, Michigan had also held the dubious reputation of being one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.[1] However, since 2018, Michigan has been in the forefront of protecting voter rights, as well as reproductive freedom. As discussed below, after voters established an independent redistricting commission, Michigan joined three other states in attempting to end partisan gerrymandering and create competitive elections with the drawing of fair maps.  

Demographics. Michigan has experienced slow growth since its heyday as the automotive capital of the United States after World War II. After the 2010 Census reported that the state population had decreased from the prior Census, Michigan 's population then grew by less than 2% the following decade. With a population of 10,077,331, as reported in the 2020 Census, Michigan's rank dropped from eighth to tenth most populous state in the country. The population of Michigan has been predominantly Non-Hispanic White, at 76.67%, but the number and percentage of this group has been declining the past few decades. In 2022, the percentage of NH Whites was 74%., while the percentage of Blacks was 14.1%, Hispanic 5.7%, and Asians 3.5%. 

However, Census classifications may be too general to capture the diversity within certain groups. Michigan is home to an estimated 400,000 to 490,000 Arabs, a widely varying estimate since Arabs are not separately counted by the Census Bureau. Arab voters are concentrated in major cities and have a voice in Michigan politics.  In 2018, Rashida Tlaib, from the Detroit area, became the first Palestinian American elected to Congress and in 2021, voters in Dearborn, which is over 40% Arab, elected their first Arab (Lebanese American) mayor. In Michigan’s recent Presidential primary election, over 100,000 voters selected "Uncommitted" to express opposition to President Biden's handling of the Gaza conflict.

Independent Redistricting Commission.  In 2018, Michigan voters passed, with over 61% of the vote, a ballot initiative approving a constitutional amendment establishing an independent redistricting commission to redraw congressional and state legislative districts. The 13-member Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting (MICR) Commission that was created consists of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents randomly selected from 9,300 voters who had applied.[2] 

After completion of the 2020 United States Census, the MICR released draft-proposed Congressional maps in December 2021, which the MICR approved with a vote of 8 to 5 and, later, added approved state legislative maps. The Congressional maps drawn by the MICR were hailed by many as being fair, creating more competition, and no longer heavily favoring Republicans. The Republicans, who had controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census, had previously drawn maps with "impregnable majorities”in the Legislature. Michigan is one of four states to create a truly nonpartisan independent commission to draw Congressional maps in 2022. California, Arizona, and Colorado are the others. 

Federal Court Challenge to Maps Drawn. However, shortly after release of the maps, a group of Black Michigan voters filed a federal lawsuit in 2022 claiming that the Congressional maps violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs asserted that  various legislative districts in and around Detroit were racial gerrymanders and diluted Black voting strength by eliminating or greatly diminishing the majority-minority districts there.  

On December 21, 2023, the three-judge court that was convened to hear the case agreed with the plaintiffs. The Court found that the record "overwhelmingly" showed that the MICR drew the "plaintiffs’ districts predominantly on the basis of race" in a manner which violated the plaintiffs' rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The three-judge court similarly found in a related case that maps for more than a dozen Michigan state House and Senate districts around metro Detroit violated the U.S. Constitution by splitting Detroit into districts combined with whiter suburbs. The court enjoined the use of the districts as drawn and directed that new maps be drawn, released for public comment, and submitted to the Court for review by March 1, 2024.[3] The state's application for stay was denied by the Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh on January 22, 2024. 

New maps have been submitted in accordance with the schedule set and are now before the court and its experts for review.   

The need to have maps redrawn is troubling. As recounted in the December 21 decision, the Commissioners simply failed to understand the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. That  should not have happened and could have easily been avoided.In addition, two of the Commissioners resigned prior to completion of their duties, because they lived outside of the state; this is a straightforward matter that should have been disclosed and uncovered prior to the time they assumed their positions. 

Michigan’s experience shows how an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission can end partisan gerrymandering and create competitive electoral races by drawing fair maps.  However, the pending lawsuits over redistricting illustrate the complexities of redistricting and the many different interests that must be considered in drawing maps. Concerns over partisan gerrymandering cannot supersede legal obligations under the Voting Rights Act, which ensures that historically politically disadvantaged groups have representation. 

Other Voting Legislation. This past November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a series of election bills to increase voter participation and provide for broader access. One measure to expand voter registration included expansion of automatic voter registration to incarcerated people after their release. Michigan had already previously allowed people with felony convictions to regain their voting rights once they're out of prison.

The state legislature also passed bills designed to prevent "chaos," particularly in the event of disputed elections. Among other things, these laws criminalize poll worker intimidation, regulate political ads that use artificial intelligence and tighten the election certification process that former President Trump tried to disrupt following his 2020 election loss.

Political Landscape of Michigan. Michigan is considered a competitive battleground state in Presidential elections.  The Democratic Presidential candidate has, since 1992, prevailed in Michigan, except in 2016 when former President Trump won with a small margin of 11,000.  Although President Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by a larger margin, he prevailed by making inroads in the suburbs, adding to his advantage in the cities, which are traditional Democratic strongholds.

As a result of a less than two percent increase in population since the 2010 census, as compared to the average 8% increase nationwide, Michigan lost one seat in Congress and will now have 13 Representatives. This was the fifth consecutive time that Michigan lost a House seat following a Census, a change accompanying the shrinkage of the automotive industry there and decentralization in the manufacture of automotive accessories and parts.

In 2022, voters elected seven Democrats and six Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. However, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) is now running for the Senate seat vacated by Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who is retiring. Until redistricting maps are finalized, it is not yet clear which Representatives are running for re-election in what districts. 

Until the use of the newly drawn maps in 2022, the Michigan state legislature was dominated by Republicans who were in control for over a decade and effectively maintained control through redistricting.  Like the prior Congressional map drawn before creation of the MICR, the state legislative maps combined urban areas, which tended to vote Democratic, with surrounding suburbs, which tended to be more Republican.  The 2022 electoral districts, which were based on maps drawn following  criteria in the 2018 amendment to the State Constitution, the number of state Representatives who were Democrats increased from 53 to 56, while the number of Republican Representatives dropped from 56 to 54.  Due to unfilled vacancies resulting from retirement or death, the number of representatives is currently tied at 54 to 54.  The Democrats currently hold a small majority in the state Senate.

Reproductive Freedom.  Reproductive freedom has been a potent issue in Michigan where voters approved a state constitutional amendment to ensure abortion rights in 2022.  The amendment included all matters related to pregnancy, including, but not limited to, pregnancy, abortion care, contraception, and infertility.  Governor Whitmer, whose support of the amendment helped her win re-election, subsequently signed a series of legislation protecting reproductive freedom, including legislation that repeals a law requiring women to have a separate insurance rider to pay for abortion, as well as laws that imposed onerous and unnecessary non-medical requirements on abortion clinics designed to force them to close, raising costs for patients, and restricting access to abortion.  She has also issued an executive order protecting Michigan healthcare workers from extradition for providing IVF services or pregnancy terminations.

Saying voting rights are “how we secure reprod­uctive rights,” Whitmer noted that some in Congress favor a national abortion ban and urged voters to stay engaged for the upcoming election. There is a congressional proposal, the Life at Conception Act , with 125 cosponsors that would ban nearly all abortions. Although IVF is not mentioned, the proposed legislation uses an argument similar to that of the Alabama Supreme Court, which conferred personhood on frozen embryos. With IVF emerging as another reproductive freedom issue, Michigan politicians of both parties have been working to refine their positions.

Although the filing deadline for candidates in Michigan’s August primary election is April 23, polling already suggests that reproductive freedom will continue to be an issue. With months to go, Michigan voters who care about reproductive freedom have plenty of time to learn more.

Volunteering Opportunites. We encourage all, particularly those living in Michigan, to support or volunteer at organizations that will assist voters in Michigan, including the following:

[1]See, e.g., Laura Royden and Michael Li, "Extreme Maps,"


[3]  See Agee v. Benson, (Dec. 21, 2023 decision).

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