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Detroiters ask court for Senate elections this year in disputed districts

michigan map
  • Detroit-area voters who sued over redistricting seek special elections this year for six Senate districts, two years ahead of schedule
  • The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission is seeking 11 weeks to finalize new maps
  • Both sides disagree on whether a special master should oversee process; court resumes Friday for next steps

Detroit-area voters who successfully challenged the city’s legislative districts want a federal court to order special elections this year in at least six state Senate districts, two years ahead of schedule.

Late last month, a federal three-judge panel ordered Michigan’s independent redistricting commission to redraw 13 metro Detroit House and Senate districts, finding the commission violated Black voters’ rights by improperly relying on racial data to draw state legislative districts.


The court is set to meet again Friday in Kalamazoo to begin determining next steps, such as setting a timeline for redrawing districts and determining whether a court-appointed special master is needed to oversee the process.


In a Tuesday court filing, voters who brought the case contended the maps are an “ongoing violation” of their rights.

“Plaintiffs and hundreds of thousands of similarly situated Black voters in Detroit have been disenfranchised since the faulty maps were first used in the 2022 election,” the filing stated. 

“Every day that passes further violates their constitutional rights.”

The court ruling bars the Michigan Secretary of State from holding elections in impacted districts until they are redrawn. If the court agrees with plaintiffs, the special elections would cut in half four-year terms of incumbent senators elected in 2022.

Six metro Detroit Senate districts — 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10 — were named in the lawsuit. 

Affected districts

Three federal judges in December ruled that 13 state House and Senate districts were illegally drawn by the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission. The following districts must be redrawn:

  • House District 1, represented by Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit
  • House District 7, represented by Rep. Helena Scott, D-Detroit
  • House District 8, represented by Rep. Mike McFall, D-Hazel Park
  • House District 10, represented by House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit
  • House District 11, represented by Rep. Veronica Paiz, D-Harper Woods
  • House District 12, represented by Rep. Kimberly Edwards, D-Eastpointe
  • House District 14, represented by Rep. Donavan McKinney, D-Detroit
  • Senate District 1, represented by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor
  • Senate District 3, represented by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit
  • Senate District 6, represented by Sen. Mary Cavanagh, D-Redford Township
  • Senate District 8, represented by Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak
  • Senate District 10, represented by Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren
  • Senate District 11, represented by Sen. Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe

All represented by Democrats: Sens. Erika Geiss of Taylor, Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Mary Cavanagh of Redford Township, Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak, Paul Wojno of Warren and Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe.

But redrawing one district could lead to changes in adjacent ones, which could trigger additional special elections and potentially jeopardize Democrat’s 20-18 edge in the chamber. 

The independent redistricting commission hasn’t ruled out an appeal of the December order from three judges appointed by former President George W. Bush.

In a separate Tuesday filing, the commissioners told the court they would need at 11 weeks to redraw the districts.

The commission suggested the court could delay the state’s April 23 candidate filing deadline for the districts to give members a “reasonable opportunity” to fix the maps.

The commission wrote in court papers that judges shouldn’t get too involved in drawing maps, lest they “bring the court too far into the ‘political thicket.’” 

Voters who brought the suit contend the panel can’t do it alone. In court papers, the plaintiffs sought a special master with broad powers, citing ongoing tensions within the commission.

In recent weeks, three members have quit, two are publicly feuding and the panel in late December couldn’t vote on whether to appeal the court ruling because three members abruptly left a meeting.

"The Commission and its members appear more intent on cannibalizing each other than functioning as a cohesive group to draw a set of acceptable maps," attorneys for the Detroit voters argued. 

The court’s ruling, penned by judges Raymond Kethledge, Paul Maloney and Janet Neff, found that experts hired by the panel to write the maps after the 2020 Census incorrectly instructed the commission to focus on racial makeups of the voting age population when drawing political districts.

The experts did not take into account primary-election data, even though “everyone agrees that the elections in these districts are decided in the Democratic primaries, not the general election,” according to the opinion.

In some cases, the percentage of African-American voters in affected districts fell from 60 percent or 70 percent to less than 40 percent in the redrawn maps. Detroit districts stretched into predominantly white suburbs, dramatically reducing the clout of African American voters.


The commission’s Voting Rights Act expert, Bruce Adelson, ended his contract effective Dec. 29, 2023, Edward Woods, the commission’s executive director, told commissioners last week.  

On Wednesday, the Michigan Secretary of State is expected to select replacements for the commission’s three vacant seats drawn from a random pool of applicants who initially applied in 2020. 

Commissioners are next scheduled to meet on Jan. 11.

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