GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Though the state’s legislative district lines were drawn under a new system this year, one thing about the process remains the same: the resulting maps are making some people unhappy.
The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, created by a state ballot initiative, last week approved U.S. House and state legislative maps. The maps will go into effect in 2022 and will stay in effect until after the 2030 census.
The maps must abide by certain constitutional criteria: All districts have to be equal population, give or take half 5%. Districts must also be geographically contiguous. The maps for the Michigan Senate appear to meet those criteria.
The third criteria says that districts “shall reflect the state’s diverse population and communities of interest.” The phrase “communities of interest” can be broadly interpreted and that is where many will question these new maps.
The last time the lines were redrawn, in 2011, Kent was covered mostly by two state Senate districts: the 28th to the north and west and the 29th that included Grand Rapids and southeast parts of the county. Kentwood and Gaines Township were included in the 26th District, which also included Allegan and Van Buren counties, a move that drew complaints 10 years ago.
After the 2021 redistricting, as it stands now, Kent County would be split among five state Senate districts.
The old 26th, which had Kentwood and Gaines Township, will become the 20th and now includes Byron, Gaines and Caledonia townships, but not Kentwood. The senator from that district will now represent southern Kent to northern Berrien County: Byron Center to St. Joseph.
The 29th District now includes Kentwood and west central Kent County, including Grand Rapids.
The old 28th becomes the 30th and includes Rockford and Walker, but instead of taking in the rest of the county, stretches into eastern Ottawa county.
The northern part of Kent, including Cedar Springs, Sparta and the Cannonsburg area, will be a part of the new 33rd that stretches from Portland in Ionia County to Irons in Lake County.
Finally, the southeastern most part of the county will be in the 18th District, which is comprised of parts of Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Barry and Ionia counties.
And that’s just the changes in one county.
The new districts will come under a good deal of scrutiny, as they always do. The question of communities of interest will always be up to an individual’s interpretation.
The real question is what happens next. Already the maps have already been challenged by a group that says the violate the federal Voting Rights Act, and other lawsuits are sure to follow. If courts uphold any challenges, the maps will have to change.
Changing a map in one place will have ripple effects on the entire layout, forcing changes to other districts.