Wednesday, April 20, 2011

County Redistricting

Today was the 2nd meeting of the redistricting process in Livingston County. While there's a lot of hype about redistricting at the state level, the process at county level is largely ignored, but just as important. The redistricting process for county commission districts goes on every ten years much like the state rep/congressional redistricting process.

The process at county level is different. Commissioners do not redistrict their own seats here. The redistricting committee is made up of the County Prosecutor, Clerk, and Treasurer, as well as the GOP and Democrat Party Chairs of the county. In Livingston County, the committee is David Morse, Margaret Dunleavy, Dianne Hardy, Lana Theis, and Jordan Genso. What makes this different than a normal partisan redistricting is that in addition to party chairs, the other committee members have to work with the commissioners in a business setting.

It's early to tell which maps are gaining momentum. Right now there's three nonpartisan maps, three democrat maps, and a republican map currently in the works that I haven't see yet. The guidelines are actually broad for county level in a legal sense. There's a 11.9% variation allowed in the districts. The other requirement is that the maps aren't redrawn for clear partisan advantage. Those are based from a court case, I believe involving Clinton County. I have to look that up in more detail.

Whatever happens, I expect the democrats to make a bigtime snit if one of their maps (which I think is a big gerrymander) is not adopted. There's a set up attempt, at least for a PR standpoint going on here. I was told that at the first meeting, that the democrats filmed this on cell-phone camera. Well, the camera was back today. It didn't catch anything shady outside of influencing Genso who IMO was playing for that camera a bit. What I found more interesting is the nitpicking with the minutes. Part of it was minor and no big deal. The other part was pushing something misleading. Genso wanted the minutes to state that his map only split three townships. That part is true. However, it split Hamburg three ways, and Genoa four ways - but those don't count as splits in his mind. He didn't want that in. The committee let him have his way with the minutes, which I don't have a problem with. There's more important things to argue about.


By law, a split is a split is a split. The republicans are going to counter a map with five overall splits, but it will split a precinct, which Genso did not like very much. Precincts are supposed to be only split when "necessary", but the question is what is "necessary." If this map has five total breaks, is that the necessity, especially if it does a good job at reasonable shaped districts. I haven't seen this one yet, so I can't fully comment. The latest dem map has 8 splits. The nonpartisan maps have 7 (shaped most like current map), 11, and 5 splits. Splits aside, the shape of the districts is also a factor. Nonpartisan one keeps them fairly close together in area. Nonpartisan two and three spreads them out a bit, as do the democrat maps that I've seen so far. Right now, I don't know how the GOP map will be on the shapes of the districts.

There's going to be at least two more maps pushed. One more democrat map, and the GOP map. We'll know more next month about which map will be approved. I think it will be decided next month, but I can't guarantee it.

This is an interesting process. It's also important. Many state reps were formerly county commissioners. Bill Rogers got his start as a county commissioner in Genoa Township. Today's commissioner is tomorrow's state rep.

6 comments:

Jordan G said...

Hi Dan,

Jordan Genso here. I'm concerned that you don't realize which map I submitted, as a couple things you said indicate that you're mistaken.

For example, I'm curious as to what you mean by "the latest dem map has 10 splits"? How did you reach that figure? If that number is true, and I'm mistaken in thinking the map breaks three townships with six total "splits" (one in Oceola, two in Hamburg, three in Genoa), I will withdraw the map.

You also stated that you think ours is a "big gerrymander". Can you describe the areas of my map that you feel is gerrymandered? I am truly curious, as I tried to make the districts as rectangular as possible (one of our guidelines). When breaking Oceola, I was able to keep the clean break, and I understand that Genoa's and Hamburg's precinct lines' waviness created some edges that are not so straight, but what modifications would you make to the map that would still keep 13 of the townships whole? The map meets the criteria as best as I could, and I'm not aware of any modifications to it that would still meet that criteria. I think that is the opposite of gerrymandering.

I can tell you that our videotaping of the meeting played no factor in my nervous handgestures. I'm not much of a public speaker, so when speaking in front of many strangers, it is clear it's not my natural environment. And the videotaping is so we have an objective record of what occurs at the meetings, since the minutes do not reflect 90% of the discussion. Since the other four members of the committee are all Republicans, you should be able to understand that we as the Democrats need a purely objective recording of the meetings, right?

What law are you referencing when you say "a split is a split is a split"? And is that a position you would consistently hold if Democrats held four of the positions on the committee? From reading the Michigan Compiled Law in reference to our reapportionment guidelines, I have determined my position for this process that I will hold regardless of the circumstances. I have asked others on the committee to do the same, and none of them would do so. I see that it says we are not to break townships unless necessary. That is why my goal in creating a map was to minimize the number of broken townships (3). I feel that such a map better follows the guidelines than one that breaks five townships with a total of five "splits".

You also stated that there are three Democratic maps. Unless I'm attending a different reapportionment meeting than the one you're discussing, I don't know where you got that number. I submitted a map at our second meeting, based on the precinct populations that we got at the first meeting. Those population numbers changed, and one of my districts had 1 person too few in it, so I had to revise the map. It's still the same submission, and it's only one map (the original is not part of those being considered). There are a total of five maps being considered. #1, #2, and #4 were created by Keri, who works for the county. The Democrats created #3. And the Republicans created one for which I have yet to actually see.

I hope that you are able to respond to this comment of mine. I am very curious to see why we disagree on things that are non-partisan in their factual basis.

Jordan G said...

Hi Dan, (sorry if this posts twice)

Jordan Genso here. I'm concerned that you don't realize which map I submitted, as a couple things you said indicate that you're mistaken.

For example, I'm curious as to what you mean by "the latest dem map has 10 splits"? How did you reach that figure? If that number is true, and I'm mistaken in thinking the map breaks three townships with six total "splits" (one in Oceola, two in Hamburg, three in Genoa), I will withdraw the map.

You also stated that you think ours is a "big gerrymander". Can you describe the areas of my map that you feel is gerrymandered? I am truly curious, as I tried to make the districts as rectangular as possible (one of our guidelines). When breaking Oceola, I was able to keep the clean break, and I understand that Genoa's and Hamburg's precinct lines' waviness created some edges that are not so straight, but what modifications would you make to the map that would still keep 13 of the townships whole? The map meets the criteria as best as I could, and I'm not aware of any modifications to it that would still meet that criteria. I think that is the opposite of gerrymandering.

I can tell you that our videotaping of the meeting played no factor in my nervous handgestures. I'm not much of a public speaker, so when speaking in front of many strangers, it is clear it's not my natural environment. And the videotaping is so we have an objective record of what occurs at the meetings, since the minutes do not reflect 90% of the discussion. Since the other four members of the committee are all Republicans, you should be able to understand that we as the Democrats need a purely objective recording of the meetings, right?

What law are you referencing when you say "a split is a split is a split"? And is that a position you would consistently hold if Democrats held four of the positions on the committee? From reading the Michigan Compiled Law in reference to our reapportionment guidelines, I have determined my position for this process that I will hold regardless of the circumstances. I have asked others on the committee to do the same, and none of them would do so. I see that it says we are not to break townships unless necessary. That is why my goal in creating a map was to minimize the number of broken townships (3). I feel that such a map better follows the guidelines than one that breaks five townships with a total of five "splits".

You also stated that there are three Democratic maps. Unless I'm attending a different reapportionment meeting than the one you're discussing, I don't know where you got that number. I submitted a map at our second meeting, based on the precinct populations that we got at the first meeting. Those population numbers changed, and one of my districts had 1 person too few in it, so I had to revise the map. It's still the same submission, and it's only one map (the original is not part of those being considered). There are a total of five maps being considered. #1, #2, and #4 were created by Keri, who works for the county. The Democrats created #3. And the Republicans created one for which I have yet to actually see.

I hope that you are able to respond to this comment of mine. I am very curious to see why we disagree on things that are non-partisan in their factual basis.

Republican Michigander said...

Hi Jordan:

Glad you responded. I took another look at the map. I am red/green colorblind and some shades are very similar to me, so that's why I took another look. I think I accidentally counted a split in Deerfield and Tyrone. I counted 8 splits. Four in Genoa (North Drick, West Williams, East LaBelle/Jones, SE Griffith/Dolan)). Three in Hamburg (South Hamburg to open, North to Dolan/Griffith, Southeast to Green Oak Open). One in Oceola (West Mantey, East Open). I changed the blog post to reflect 8, not 10 splits. Your map I used is Revision 2, and was the one posted on the wall.

I wasn't referring to hand gestures with the camera comment. I'll never make a crack about public speaking because I'm probably an average speaker at best. It was the argument over narrative minutes and the comments themselves. In my experience from different meetings, they are usually rough outlines with votes more than a detailed account. The first thing that went through my mind is a gotcha attempt. Someone says something that can be interpreted in a certain way, and it's going to go on a blog. A minutes fight is easy fodder for a news story. D's and R's both use the cameras, and both times it is usually for gotcha purposes. It's legal, but I'm going to make my readers aware of it. Personally I thought it wasn't worth an argument, although it's very easy PR to get a political win. Nobody wins defending minutes.

As to the "three democrat maps," I was referring to #3 original, revisions 1 and 2. I should have mentioned that I didn't know if you withdrew two of the maps. Keri's maps are the ones I referred to as "Nonpartisan."

As for rectangles, they aren't part of the APOL standards. I don't know where the committee guidelines for rectangles comes from unless its self-imposed. I know there's APOL (recommended but not law for congress) at the state level, which pushes for compact districts once one's past the splits. Rectangles aren't necessarily compact. Squares are. The counterargument to rectangles are what I refer to as "snakes" districts (long and skinny). Those are rectangles too, but does someone in Deerfield want Commissioner Smith from Iosco 20 miles away? Or Conway in Dave Domas's district. I know there's a 11-12% (11.8 I believe) variation allowed as well.

I'm referring to court decisions in the past referencing splits. I'm trying to remember which one, but splits are viewed by the number of them, not where. If a township is split four times, it is four splits. If four townships are split, it's still four splits. I'd have the same position if it was 4-1 dem as I do right now with the current lineup there now.

The big gerrymander I referred to was the Brighton City, Genoa 8 (full disclosure - my old home and where I lived the longest), and North Hamburg district. Hamburg and Brighton City connect, and at more than just a corner (which doesn't count). Genoa 8 was the bridge, and also just happens to be the home of both Carol Griffith and Kelly R, her opponent (Mystic Hills/Prarie View). Carol and Dennis have a primary, leaving an opening for someone else. I don't see where just this one Genoa precinct belongs in that district.

There's another more friendly district for the dems similar to Jake Donohue's old district, but I'm not going to knock that individual one for being a gerrymander because it doesn't have the "bridge" that Genoa 8 (and Hamburg 1) has. I don't blame you for trying to get the most favorable map possible since that's your job as chair, much as my job for district is to avoid getting my committee in trouble.

Jordan G said...

Thanks for responding Dan.

I don't quite understand your perception of splits. You agree with me that Oceola is only one split, as there are two districts that share it. But Hamburg, with three districts sharing it, you say has three splits- why not two?

The issue with the minutes and camera is fairly obvious I imagine- we as Democrats need to be prepared for whatever occurs. There have been court challenges in the past, and there will be court challenges in the future that are a result of this process. Since we are outnumbered 4-1 on the committee, I need to get as much objective material that I can to reference if this results in a challenge. I don't want this to result in a court challenge, but I am willing to do so if the committee does not follow the guidelines in MCL (I can't remember the number at the moment). So in that regard, you are correct that what I was saying was intentional with the camera being there to capture it. I don't want to prevent the possibility of later discrepancies. It's only going to be a "gotcha" moment in the rare situation of this going to court and someone disputing what actually occurred.

If you want to say that revising a map after the populations change (invalidating my original map) is the same as submitting a new map, you have that option. I would disagree, as we only have one map currently under consideration.

The MCL does state "square" as a guideline, rather than "rectangular", so I will give you that one. But I would consider a rectangle to be "more square" than a district that looks like a plus sign or attaches peninsulas to rectangles. I think that the districts' corners should be concave rather than convex, if that makes any sense. But it is a point on which reasonable people can disagree.

My understanding is that "splits" have been defined differently in different cases in the past. I prefer the definition that says if a township is already broken, to add a third district is more optimal than breaking a second township that would otherwise be whole. If the committee defines "splits" the other way, that is their option. I don't believe there are any cases though where a breaking into a township, while also splitting a precinct, is equal to breaking into a township by adding a whole precinct. Splitting precincts have always been an additional split added onto the township split, from what I have heard/read.

I will be honest and say that while I love the map I have submitted, you have pointed out my biggest regret. I wish I could have found a way to keep 13 townships whole and not added that Genoa precinct to that Brighton/Hamburg district, but I couldn't find any way to make the numbers work. Again, I'm going to say it wasn't a gerrymander, since I set out from the beginning to keep as many townships whole as possible, and that is the only way I could reach that goal. If someone else submits a map that only breaks three townships, I have gone on record before now saying that I would support it (I told a Press & Argus reporter that at least, but it was not printed). If you can't point out an alternative map that matches that goal though, I don't believe your gerrymander accusation holds any weight.

If you are there at the next meeting on Tuesday, I would like to introduce myself to you in person.

Republican Michigander said...

The reason there's three splits in Hamburg and four in Genoa are because of the number of districts in those townships. At my old place, I drive about a mile or two west or north, and I'm in a new district without leaving the township. Currently, that's only the case if I drove south because of crossing the Hamburg line.

I thought you had three maps in consideration based on how I interpreted the discussion. If only Map 3, revision 2 is under consideration, then there's one map. I thought you had three maps and one more on the way. That's based on how I interpreted the discussion.

The actual word from APOL standards (what you call MCL, unless you're using a different statute) is compactness. Districts are supposed to be compact. That actually favors map 1 right now, although number of splits favor probably map 4 and maybe the upcoming GOP map, which has been described to me, but I haven't seen it.

I don't know offhand about precinct splits. Mainly because townships can re-precinct and that's been done several times over the years. Genoa's done that. I was in what was Genoa 4 for years before it became 8 (and smaller). I know it's not ideal, but it makes Genoa Twp whole, and APOL prefers larger townships being split less often than smaller townships. I assume it is two splits (Township and precinct as one each), but I don't like assuming.

I know Gerrymander is a favorite political slur. I thought the addition of Genoa 8 was ironic because of two individuals who lived there, one in each party. (I know that area better than I know Green Oak) Whether it is coincidence or not can only be speculated. Regardless of whether it is or isn't, I'm not going to fault you for it. Your job is to get the best map possible for your county party just as it's Lana's job to do the same for our county party. Under any scenario I've seen so far, you do have IMO 2-3 winnable districts depending on the map and most importantly your candidates.

When I get time, I'm going to look at some of the case law on county redistricting for extra clarification.

I'll try and make the next meeting. I can't guarantee anything that's middle of the day, but I hope I can make it.

Flatus Maximus said...

So. It shall be war?

Or so it seems the Dems in attendance at today's Livingston County Redistricting committee meeting, were muttering, after it passed the map proffered by Livingston County GOP Chair Lana Theis, nominated by County Clerk Margaret Dunleavy, support by Treasurer Diane Hardy.

War in the guise of a court challenge? Declaring that their's was the better map to the point of undo verbal harassment of the Clerk and Treasurer.

Whose map is the better map is not the issue here. All maps considered fell within the stipulated guidelines. With that in mind it all comes down to a majority consensus which the Dems clearly did not have. A legal challenge would argue process and would wind up a fools errand, but good luck with that.

The only result would be the minority party making a public spectacle of itself in the local media, ever playing the victim - but wait, I think it's a page from their playbook, no?