Politics

How Fast Can You Put Michigan Back Together?

Michigan’s mapmakers boasted of targeting “Dem garbage” in their gerrymander.

Next year, state lawmakers will redraw the congressional district maps based on the 2020 census, a process mandated by the Constitution. In anticipation of this new redistricting cycle, Slate is revamping our gerrymander puzzle game from 2013 as part of our Who Counts? initiative. We’ll be releasing new puzzles over the upcoming weeks, highlighting the worst and weirdest gerrymanders in the country. Find out how quickly you can put these states back together and learn everything that’s at stake in the next round of redistricting.

After the 2010 election, Republicans gained a trifecta in Michigan, seizing control of the governorship and Legislature. They also won a conservative majority on the state Supreme Court, meaning all the pieces were in place for a brutal GOP gerrymander. Republican legislators promptly got to work carving up the state to create as many red districts as possible. They packed most of Michigan’s large minority population, which leans Democratic, into a handful of deep blue districts, then distributed other Democratic voters through safe GOP districts. The resulting map, above, gave Republicans at least seven of the state’s 14 congressional seats, even when Democrats won a decisive majority of the statewide vote.

In 2017, voting rights advocates sued to invalidate Michigan’s gerrymander, alleging extreme partisan bias in violation of the Constitution. During the ensuing litigation, the plaintiffs obtained secret documents from GOP mapmakers, who boasted that they were targeting “Dem garbage”—that is, liberal neighborhoods—as well as black residents in Detroit. These mapmakers relied heavily on racial and partisan data to entrench an unbeatable Republican advantage in the congressional delegation.

A federal court invalidated the map in 2019 as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The Supreme Court later reversed that decision after ruling that the federal judiciary could not police political redistricting. In the 2018 midterm elections, however, Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment establishing an independent redistricting commission. Republicans’ legal attacks on the commission have proved unsuccessful, and it is set to redraw the state’s congressional maps after the 2020 census.

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