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Michigan Court of Appeals strikes down Cass County Commission maps

Cass County's 2021 apportionment map divides Dowagiac between two districts.
Cass County government
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https://www.casscountymi.org/1361/Apportionment-Map
The Michigan Court of Appeals has invalidated Cass County's commission district maps.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Cass County’s commission districts were improperly drawn.

Last year, Cassopolis resident Jim Pedersen sued the commission in charge of redrawing the districts based on new census data.

He argued that the adopted maps split the city of Dowagiac in half, illegally diluting its Democratic and minority vote. The commission maintained that it didn’t consider partisan data when drawing the new borders.

After hearing arguments last month, the appeals court ruled that the districts weren’t contiguous — portions of one district were entirely surrounded by two others, a violation of state statute.

“There’s islands, there’s non-contiguous parts,” Pedersen said. “Essentially what they did is said, ‘Yup, this is an illegal map, and it needs to be done again.’”

NonContiguous.png
Michigan Court of Appeals
The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that Cass County's commission maps were non-contiguous since portions of one district were completely surrounded by other districts, a violation of state law.

Dowagiac is the only city in Cass County and has the county's largest concentration of minority voters. It was represented by a Democrat on the county commission for much of the last decade.

The court didn’t draw a firm conclusion on whether the maps were drawn for partisan gain. However, according to the court’s opinion, Pedersen presented evidence that puts the apportionment commission’s claim that it remained blind to partisan data in question.

“The difficulties raised by the split of Dowagiac along with the election history for the city when it was part of a single district permit an inference that the decision to split Dowagiac — with its accompanying difficulties — was made to effect a partisan advantage,” the opinion reads.

Since it already invalidated the maps based on contiguity criteria, the court determined that it “need not resolve whether the Commission divided Dowagiac for an impermissible purpose.”

“Rather, if the Commission should again select an apportionment plan that divides Dowagiac on remand, we instruct the Commission to explain how that split was necessary to meet the population requirements and preserve the integrity of other municipal boundaries,” the opinion reads.

The issue now returns to Cass County, where the apportionment commission will have to adopt a new map that complies with state law.

It’s unclear what that decision will mean for Michigan’s August primaries — the deadline for candidates to file passed on April 19.

Cass County Clerk and apportionment commission chair Monica McMichael said in an email that she is currently evaluating the court's opinion with legal counsel and plans to meet with the full apportionment commission in the coming weeks.

"The Court identified a single contiguity issue," McMichael wrote. "I am confident the Commission can address it satisfactorily with a minor change to the existing 2021 apportionment plan."

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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