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Redistricting commission couldn’t get much more wrong

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission was wrong.

Not just a little wrong, but really wrong. So wrong a majority of Michigan Supreme Court justices were forced to tell them as much, and order the commissioners to release a recording and documents they erroneously withheld from public view. Documents that contributed to those commissioners’ decisions about how and where Michigan’s political district boundaries should run for the next decade. Documents that should’ve been public from their creation considering the Michigan Constitution requires the panel to adhere to near absolute transparency.

Now we’re no experts, but when the highest court in the state says you’ve run amok, it’s probably time for a little introspection.

Yet, somehow, some of the folks who serve on the panel in charge of redrawing our state’s political maps seem immune to the requisite redirection that comes along with a slap on the hand from the high court.

Sure, this week, after the justices issued a written decision, the commission released a handful of documents the court pinpointed as withheld incorrectly (they claimed attorney-client privilege for memos that clearly aren’t). And they released a recording of their closed-door meeting that took place on Oct. 27 (an obvious violation of the transparency requirement bestowed upon the commission).

But in a press briefing Tuesday afternoon Commission Chair Rebecca Szetela minimized the significance of the ruling. Then, both she and the commission’s spokesman Edward Woods III said there are no immediate plans to change the board’s procedures for entering closed meetings.

These are the types of reactions that convince us that the commissioners simply aren’t contemplating the gravity of both the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling or the task they’ve been asked to complete on our behalf.

The 13 commissioners selected for this task are the first crop to carry out what the majority of Michiganders hoped would install a trustworthy system to guide the once-per-decade redrawing of our political districts. We know that’s what folks wanted because they went to the polls in 2018 and passed a ballot measure that scrapped the previous system of allowing the political party in power at the end of each decade to scribble boundaries that benefited them most.

And the foundation of building a trustworthy process is absolute transparency. That’s why the Constitutional amendment that created the commission demands they disclose every bit of information and conversation that contributes to the map-drawing process.

The commissioners had plenty of opportunities to do the right thing along the way. They all read the ballot language and Constitutional amendment that empowers them. They all heard from journalists and advocates from all corners when they first ran afoul of the transparency requirement. Then they ignored lawyers’ letters from a consortium of our state’s leading media outlets. And disregarded calls from politicians of all stripes. And cast aside a formal opinion from the Michigan Attorney General.

It seems just about everyone who cares about ensuring our state’s redistricting process is both credible and trustworthy weighed in to tell the panel it needed to correct its course.

Yet, somehow the commissioners don’t seem to hear the chorus that now includes Michigan Supreme Court justices.

It’s frustrating to watch people tasked with cradling and nurturing public trust treat it with such reckless disregard.

As the clock winds down to the panel’s deadline to submit finalized maps to the legislature for approval, we are thankful that our state’s leading journalism institutions stood fast for us all and challenged the commissioners’ malfeasance. If not for their effort, we all would be left to wonder how and if those memos and closed-door discussion steered the political maps we all will live with for the next decade.

And we are hopeful that someday, somehow, the members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will understand and acknowledge just how wrong they were.

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