Michigan Redistricting Resource Institute (the “Institute”) was created to promote the common good and general welfare of the people of Michigan by protecting each person’s right to vote consistent with the concept of “one person, one vote”, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other principles designed to protect each person’s right to vote.
By the mid-1960s, the federal courts and the Congress had made it ever more difficult to exclude citizens from the electoral and representational systems. A key component of this push to ensure the civil rights of all citizens in the electoral arena were new restrictions on legislative and congressional redistricting. These restrictions were shaped by a combination of court decisions and federal legislation at the heart of civil rights reform in the United States.
In Baker v. Carr (1962), the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was within its jurisdiction to ensure fairness in state redistricting laws and procedures. In essence, it could indeed intervene in state redistricting processes if necessary.
Later, in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the seats in state legislatures must be apportioned on the basis of population. This case articulated most clearly the “one person, one vote” principle that requires legislative districts to contain somewhat equal populations. We take for granted that this principle is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. But until this decision, state redistricting plans–in Michigan as well as other states–were frequently designed to prevent citizens from receiving a fair redistricting plan.
Congress subsequently passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The most prominent provisions of this act prohibited literacy tests for voters (Michigan did not use them) and residency requirements of more than 30 days–both of which were widely used in the South to prevent African-American voting.
The drawing of district lines was affected by two additional provisions in the VRA that reinforced the United States Supreme Court decisions in Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims. Section 2 of the VRA restates the constitutional principle that no person can be denied the right to vote based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. Section 5 of the VRA contains a temporary provision that “covered jurisdictions” must submit any voting changes (including redistricting plans) to the United States Attorney General (and the Department of Justice) for review. Michigan is subject to these “preclearance” requirements.
In Michigan, there are other criteria which have been developed to protect the public’s right to fair redistricting plans, such as the preservation of county, city, and township boundaries, compactness and contiguity of districts.
The Institute was created to bring about civic betterments and improvements as a result of fair redistricting plans.