Supreme Court must now install transparency in redistricting process

Only in Michigan could a government panel created to bring transparency to a political process find a way to shroud its decisions in secrecy.

Well, maybe it could happen elsewhere, but there’s no denying the default setting for most government operations in the Mitten state seems to be murky with a dash of disdain for the public.

Maybe’s that’s why we’re disappointed with — albeit not surprised by — the shenanigans pulled in recent weeks by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. That 13-member board in charge of redrawing political district maps in the state once per decade was created by voters in 2018 with ballot language that clearly commands all its work be done in public view.

Similarly, the constitutional amendment that created the redistricting board clearly states “all data and supporting materials used to prepare” its maps be published (presumably for public inspection).

That’s the kind of language meant to ensure every decision, every discussion receive thorough public inspection. The kind of transparency that builds trust. The kind of transparency, prior to the 2018 ballot measure, Michiganders could only dream of.

Yet, somehow the commission’s members have decided some of the board’s functions can be done behind closed doors. That some of the documents that inform its decisions should be held hostage from the voters who empowered it. That some of its discussions should be secret.

For the past month, the board has received a bevy of calls for it to do the right thing, to live up to its intended purpose. Throughout, the panel has held tight to its claims that memos titled “Voting Rights Act” and “The History of Discrimination in the State of Michigan and Its Influence on Voting” should be shielded by attorney-client privilege.

They claim Michigan taxpayers shouldn’t be privy to information in those documents that guided the board’s political map drawing process.

Now, board members – in the face of a chorus of objections from all corners and an opinion from the Michigan Attorney General — voted 7-5 to continue to withhold documents they kept secret since an Oct. 27 closed session.

Thankfully, a consortium of news organizations (The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Bridge Magazine, and the Michigan Press Association) filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking the Michigan Supreme Court to intervene and compel commissioners to fork over documents it chooses to keep secret. The lawsuit also asks for release of a recording of that Oct. 27 closed-door meeting.

It’s a disappointing crossroads that arrives just three weeks before the MICRC is scheduled to approve final drafts of redrawn political maps it proposes to bestow upon Michigan voters for the next decade.

We hope, for the sake of what little trust in the redistricting process remains, the court will move swiftly to correct this board run amok.

Nothing in those documents should override Michigan voters’ right to know and trust their redistricting process.


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