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On Houghton County apportionment

As reported in the Gazette on October 2, I have submitted a six-district plan for Houghton County apportionment that does not put cities and townships within the same district and divides only one municipality, the City of Houghton, into multiple districts. It is the population growth of the City of Houghton, which is presently too large to form a single district regardless of how many districts are drawn within our county, which has led to the apportionment kerfuffle this year. In short, the City of Houghton must be divided into multiple county districts.

Quoting the Gazette, Democrat Party Chair William Keith has stated that the plan I have submitted “suffers from a paradox where despite being the biggest population centers, Houghton and Hancock’s would be diluted. They would still be spread across two districts, but in a six-district setup, would only comprise 33% of the board.” Dr. Keith’s six-district plan would spread the population of the two cities into three districts and subdivide multiple townships. But what percent of the county’s residents reside in one of the two cities? The population of the Cities of Houghton and Hancock contain just under 34.5% of the population of Houghton County, thus the cities would be properly represented if they comprised one-third of the county board. Why is a party chair trying to convince us that 34.5% is closer to one-half than one-third? One word: gerrymandering. Dr. Keith is an intelligent individual. His proposed apportionment plan manipulates municipal boundaries in an attempt to create a reasonable possibility of having three (or more) democrats elected to the county board. It’s extremely well done gerrymandering but, alas, not legal.

Michigan Law specifically states (in part): no township or part thereof shall be combined with any city or part thereof for a single district, unless such combination is needed to meet the population standard; townships, villages and cities shall be divided only if necessary to meet the population standard; and districts shall not be drawn to effect partisan political advantage.

Republican Party Chair Dan Holcomb’s proposed plan also unnecessarily divides Portage Township into multiple districts. Treasurer Lisa Mattila’s proposed plan, in my opinion, is the most common sense approach and is straightforward to implement. Moving Quincy Township into District 1 and some residents on the west end of Houghton into District 3 while otherwise maintaining the current district alignment closely maintains the status quo without unnecessarily dividing any municipality. Ms. Mattila’s plan maintains the (generally perceived) positive of five districts, too. Its only drawback that I see is that it does intermix cities and townships, with the City of Hancock and Adams Township both in District 3.

My proposal was generated with no attempt to maintain the status quo, but rather to draw reasonable district boundaries from scratch based on the requirements of law. I submit that any apportionment proposal that divides a municipality other than the City of Houghton is in violation of Michigan Law, as it has been clearly shown that this is not “necessary to meet the population standard.” The plans proposed by Dr. Keith and Mr. Holcomb violate the law to this end; my proposal and Ms. Mattila’s do not. I submit, less forcefully, that any apportionment plan that mixed cities and townships within a single district is a violation of Michigan Law, as it has been clearly shown that such combination is not “needed to meet the population standard.” To this end, all proposals other than mine appear to violate state law. I say “appear,” because an argument can be made that combining cities and townships is necessary within a five-district plan. Michigan Law does not specify if the requirement that cities and townships remain in separate districts is general to all possible number of districts (which, for Houghton County, is anywhere from five to fifteen) or can be interpreted solely within the context of a predetermined number of districts (in this case five).

As for population deviation among districts, I believe that the topic has been overemphasized by the apportionment committee. Less deviation seems inherently more desirable, but any proposal that falls below the 11.9% standard should withstand any legal challenge on that ground. The Michigan Supreme Court has opined that “the goal of following city and township boundary lines takes priority over the goal of population equality.”

Barring additional proposals, I believe that the apportionment committee needs to soon select between the common sense, least disruptive proposal (Ms. Mattila’s) and the proposal most likely to withstand any legal challenge (mine). The proposals submitted by Dr. Keith and Mr. Holcomb are too flawed to merit consideration.

John Haeussler has 32 years experience as a research statistician at the University of Michigan. He resides in Hancock.

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