Traverse City Record-Eagle

Election 2010

November 1, 2010

Redistricting plan at stake in election

LANSING (AP) — Tuesday's election could have far-reaching implications in Michigan beyond the immediate winners and losers.

Lawmakers and the governor's office — and likely even the state Supreme Court — will get involved in next year's battle over redrawing boundaries for Michigan's congressional and state legislative districts, based on final results from the 2010 Census. The maps will be in place for a decade, influencing races long after some of those elected on Nov. 2 are gone from the state Capitol.

It's an under-the-radar issue for most voters. But it's high-profile for the Republican and Democratic parties.

"There's money being spent, consultants getting into place — it's all directly tied to redistricting," said Ed Sarpolus, of Target Insyght in Lansing, and a longtime redistricting analyst.

Republicans were in charge of the Michigan Legislature and the governor's office in 2001, the last time district boundaries were redone. Republicans might have the same advantage when it comes to approval of new district maps next year.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder leads Democrat Virg Bernero in recent polls. Republicans already control the state Senate, and they could make a bid to take over the state House, which now is run by Democrats.

The makeup of the Michigan Supreme Court could become important if a plan approved by the Legislature is challenged in court, a typical step in the process. Judges nominated by Democrats currently hold a 4-3 edge with two seats up for election Tuesday.

Redistricting could take on special significance next year because Michigan widely is expected to lose one of its 15 U.S. House seats as its share of the national population shrinks. Each of the nation's U.S. House districts must be roughly equal in population, so growing states in the South and West could pick up more congressional representation.

It's likely the Michigan Legislature will have to approve new congressional districts that could pit a few winners of Tuesday's races against each other in 2012.

That's what happened after Michigan lost one of its congressional seats based on the 2000 Census.

The Republican-led Legislature drew district lines that kept their incumbents separated from each other. But the new map would have forced six of Michigan's nine Democratic U.S. House incumbents to face off against each other. Two incumbents each were put into three redrawn districts.

John Dingell, of Dearborn, defeated Lynn Rivers, of Ann Arbor, in a 2002 Democratic primary. James Barcia, of Bay City, decided to run for the Michigan Senate instead of facing colleague Dale Kildee, of Flint, for a congressional seat. David Bonior, of Mount Clemens, who opted to run for governor, was placed in the same district as Sander Levin, of Royal Oak.

Democrats spent more than $500,000 trying to stop the plan in court, but their efforts failed. After the 2002 election, Michigan's congressional delegation went from a 9-7 Democratic majority to a 9-6 Republican majority.

Demographics and political leanings often change within districts over the course of a decade, however. Two of the congressional districts formerly held by Republicans were won by Democrats Gary Peters and Mark Schauer in the 2008 election. Their victories in part can be attributed to high turnout of new voters wanting to send Democrat Barack Obama to the White House.

This year, a backlash against Obama and some Democrat-backed policies have Republicans expecting big gains.

"Whether it's the Tea Party or the Obama election that turned out young voters in '08, that's honestly the beauty of the system," said Denise DeCook, of Marketing Resource Group in Lansing, who has helped Republicans with past redistricting efforts. "It's not maps that vote. It's the people inside those maps that vote. ... Just because the lines are drawn, that does not determine what the outcome of an election is going to be."

Safeguards are built into federal and state law designed to limit the power that political parties have over the redistricting process.

Districts within the state Legislature must represent roughly the same number of people. State law says districts should be "areas of convenient territory contiguous by land," and they typically break along county, city or township lines.

But redistricting has led to some odd-shaped configurations over the years.

The 22nd state Senate district includes all of Livingston and Shiawassee counties and an L-shaped part of Ingham County. The 17th district includes all of Monroe County but also cuts a jagged route through parts of Washtenaw and Jackson counties. The 26th district includes diagonal portions of Genesee and Oakland counties.

The one safe bet: Whichever political party has the most control over the redistricting process next year, the other will mount legal challenges against it.

"Somebody always finds some reason to take the plan to court," Sarpolus said. "That is just a given."

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