Community Engagement is a Beautiful Thing!

The Census Bureau has begun the process of releasing the first set of local data files from the 2010 Census.  The PL94-171, or redistricting files, contain the information – race/ethicity and gender of the voting age population for every single “census block” in the state – that will serve as the basis for constructing all the voting districts – U.S. Congress; State House and Senate; County Commissioner; and City Councils – across Michigan.  State files are being released on a flow basis, with the expectation that Michigan’s file will arrive sometime in March.

Long considered a process that is conducted secretly in smoke-filled rooms, advances in technology and a more engaged electorate is bringing the process out in the open where smoking is no longer allowed.

Kat Hartman and I had the privilege of representing Data Driven Detroit last Friday at a meeting of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative.  Joining us at the table was a group of committed community activists representing the Michigan Nonprofit Association; Michigan Voice; Common Cause; the League of Women Voters of Michigan; the United Ways of Michigan; the Center for Michigan; Public Sector Associates; the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration; and a number of others.

The goal of the collaborative is to lead an effort to reform the Michigan redistricting process to make it open and transparent at both the state and local levels.  While a great deal of work will be done at the legislative level, the primary objective will be a Public Education campaign.  This campaign will include the production of a “Guide to Redistricting” and other informational materials; a Stakeholders Meeting that will feature national experts and be open to the public; the production of training materials for nonprofits; a series of Community Conversations convened by the Center for Michigan; and a Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition.

The Redistricting Competition is being led by Jocelyn Benson (Democratic candidate for Secretary of State in 2010) and the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration.  The competition is inspired by the Ohio Secretary of State’s 2009 “Ohio Redistricting Competition,” a month long competition that invited Ohio citizens to create their own unbiased district maps. The competition produced citizen-made district maps that were judged and submitted to the Ohio General Assembly for redistricting consideration.

In Michigan, Competition partners will convene a bipartisan committee to oversee the “Michigan Redistricting Competition.”    The committee will solicit public plans for the drawing of legislative districts for U.S. Congress, State House and State Senate. The submitted plans will be posted online via an interactive website, and the committee will score each plan based on previously determined objective principles.  The highest scoring plans will be endorsed and submitted for consideration to the Michigan Legislature.

The Competition’s interactive website, www.MichiganRedistricting.Org, will provide information on current legislative debates and historical and legal background on redistricting.   The website will also serve as the portal for citizens to review current potential redistricting plans and submit their own.

Data Driven Detroit is excited and honored to be a partner in this collaborative because it fits so well with our mission – making data available and accessible to promote community engagement and action.