Michigan Republicans have been meddling in an independent redistricting commission's effort to end partisan gerrymandering by coaching supporters on how to argue on behalf of map changes experts say would favor GOP candidates. Trainings hosted by party leaders included talking points that were later presented to the commission during a public comments period, according to a review by NBC News.
The story published on Nov. 4 was ammended the following day to reflect that Democrats appeared to have attempted a similar manuever, albeit less successfully and, party leaders say, maliciously.
State and county-level Democrats said they’ve encouraged and helped voters to engage in the redistricting process, going as far as to workshop talking points with them. But Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said that unlike the Republicans, her party is not holding training sessions.
After this article was published, (Michigan Republican Party Senior Director Sarah) Anderson shared an email that appeared to dispute multiple Michigan Democrats’ claims, including Barnes’, that the party had not conducted formal trainings. The email, sent Oct. 15 by Emily Boyer, senior political adviser on redistricting, invites Democrats in the Kalamazoo area to attend a Zoom training on advocating for fair maps.
A spokesman for the party, when asked about the email Thursday night, acknowledged the event. He said that four people participated and that it was primarily focused on explaining the redistricting process and the logistics of offering public comment. In the end, the spokesman said, none wanted to testify in person. The spokesman also said there was a similar event in Kent County, hosted by the county party over Zoom.
Asked about her earlier remarks, Barnes said in a statement Thursday night that “by no means have we had trainings that actively seek to undermine the commissioners working to prevent partisan gerrymandering.”
“Typical, right? Democrats are never as organized,” said Mark Brewer, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, who noted that interest groups including environmental groups and the Bangladeshi community in Hamtramck, a city at the edge of Detroit, had organized in the state to influence the commission, too. “The fact that Republicans are doing that is not bad, per se. It’s what you’re teaching people to say and why.”
Republicans, the report says, instructed would-be public commenters to keep certain city or county boundaries whole by describing them as "communities of interest," an apparent effort to appeal to one of the commission's priorities.
Spencer said that maintaining county and city boundaries in political districts often appears “neutral” but in practice it “hugely favors Republicans” in redistricting.
News of the messaging effort follows an Intercept report that looked at other ways in which Republicans were seeking to undermine the commission.