Hillsdale County state Senate Map | Courtesy MICRC

Hillsdale County will be split into two dif­ferent state Senate dis­tricts under a plan approved by the Michigan Inde­pendent Cit­izens Redis­tricting Com­mission on Dec. 28. 

On the new map, Hillsdale and Jonesville are in dis­trict 16 and Allen and Reading are in dis­trict 17. 

The new maps enacted by the com­mission give Democrats a chance of flipping the state leg­is­lature by cre­ating several com­pet­itive dis­tricts in sub­urban areas, according to Bridge Michigan. 

Colin Brown, a Van Andel graduate school student who worked as a researcher for Hillsdale’s Markman Report, said the redis­tricting com­mission eval­uated several factors: par­tisan fairness, com­pliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Michigan State Con­sti­tution, con­ti­guity in crafting dis­tricts, and com­mu­nities of interest. The Markman report raised ques­tions about the com­mu­nities of interest requirement, according to Brown. 

“The intro­duction of com­mu­nities of interest had not played a role in pre­vious redis­tricting efforts,” Brown said.

Brown said the Uni­versity of Michigan’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy penned a report inter­preting the com­mu­nities of interest requirement to be expanded to encompass issues of public policy such as special tax assessment dis­tricts and media markets. Hillsdale College responded to the report with the Markman Report, written by former Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Pro­fessor of Con­sti­tu­tional Law Stephen Markman.

The Markman report inter­prets com­mu­nities of interest as organic counties, cities, towns, vil­lages, and town­ships. Markman writes that the Uni­versity of Michigan report’s inter­pre­tation of “com­mu­nities of interest” could risk bringing ele­ments of ger­ry­man­dering and political par­ti­sanship into the redis­tricting process under a dif­ferent name. 

“It is very clear that the com­mission used com­mu­nities of interest as a way of moving away from tra­di­tional geo­graphical and pre-estab­lished political bound­aries,” Brown said. “In some of the early ver­sions of the maps, Hillsdale County was some­times split into two or three state­house districts.” 

Voters estab­lished the Michigan Redis­tricting Com­mission by approving an amendment to the Michigan State Con­sti­tution in 2018. This trans­ferred the legislature’s power to draw state and con­gres­sional dis­tricts to an inde­pendent redis­tricting com­mission of cit­izens selected by lottery, according to the Michigan State Constitution.

Josh Barker, a junior and George Wash­ington Fellow who assisted with research for the Markman project, said Democrats often argue that the number of votes and the number of seats awarded during an election are unproportional. 

“By looking at par­tisan fairness during redis­tricting, people will com­plain about the amount of seats held by Repub­licans being higher than those who actually voted for them,” Barker said. “The fact lines are drawn means that it has to happen. The winner takes all, unless you bake par­tisan parity into the system.”

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Joseph Postell, who closely fol­lowed the redis­tricting of the Michigan con­gres­sional map, said the winner-take-all system causes the “wasted vote phe­nomena” where every vote over the 50% threshold does not achieve more rep­re­sen­tation for that district. 

“What Democrats want to do is redraw the dis­tricts so that they win each dis­trict by the smallest number of votes pos­sible, thereby evenly dis­trib­uting their voters throughout all the dis­tricts and trans­lating their votes into as much political power as pos­sible,” Postell said.

Hillsdale College graduate student Sam Lair, who led a petition against the county split, said the com­mission fun­da­men­tally changed the redis­tricting process with its new maps.

“The issue with the com­mission is that of elected offi­cials and the original con­ception of the American Con­sti­tution,” Lair said. “It should be the rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the people duly appointed for those posi­tions that are accountable to the people.” 

According to The Detroit News, two non-par­tisan members of the com­mission who applied as inde­pen­dents were later traced to Demo­c­ratic causes. Brown said this was one example of dif­fi­culties with inde­pendent com­mis­sions drawing dis­trict maps with minimal experience.

Lair said there was no member appointed to the redis­tricting com­mission from Southern Michigan.

Sophomore Luke Spangler, who has closely fol­lowed the redis­tricting process, said the commission’s efforts pro­duced maps that better rep­resent all aspects of Michigan under the require­ments of the state Constitution.

“The maps saw much improvement to com­pet­i­tiveness in dis­tricts, where as much as 25% of the state­house could easily switch parties in any given election according to pre­vious results in those new dis­tricts,” Spangler said, citing Bridge Michigan. “While on paper the bound­aries look rough, the people are picking the politi­cians instead of the other way around for the first time in Michigan history.”

Both dis­tricts will elect a new state Senator as Mike Shirkey, R‑Clarklake, and Dale Zorn, R‑Ida, will be term-limited after serving two terms of four years, according to their Michigan Senate bios.

Unlike the state Senate map, Hillsdale County will remain intact in the new maps for U.S. Con­gress and the state house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The Cook Political Report pre­dicts the county will easily re-elect state rep­re­sen­tative Andrew Fink, R‑Hillsdale, and U.S. Con­gressman Tim Walberg, R‑Tipton. Fink was elected in 2020 by a margin of more than 40 points, while Walberg was elected by a 17-point margin, according to election data com­piled by the Michigan Department of State.