County Commission Districts Stay Largely The Same

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that Saline would be represented in Districts 1 and 3. In actuality, Dexter and Chelsea will be represented by District 1 and Saline will be represented by District 3, along with the Village of Manchester.

Washtenaw County’s Board of Commissioners new districts are virtually identical to the previous map. The new district will retain nine seats, despite pushes from the Washtenaw County Republican Party, and others, to expand the number of seats to 15 commissioners.

The new 2022 map will be effective until 2032. The redistricting commission – which consisted of Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County Treasurer Catherine McClary, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Republican Chair David Frey, and Washtenaw County Democratic Party Chair Chris Savage – received a lot of public comment
both in favor of keeping the nine seat set up and expanding to 15 seats.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to keep what we have, and a lot of people who wanted to expand the size of the board with more districts, to expand the diversity of the board. There was some support for that, although they weren’t big enough to be a majority. I proposed a 15 district plan. One of the features of the plan was that the five wards of Ann Arbor would each be a district,” Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum said.

The argument to expand the number of districts was primarily to enhance democratic competitiveness. Kestenbaum explained that the county requires that all districts be contiguous and that individual municipalities should not be divided unnecessarily. And since Ann Arbor represents about a third of Washtenaw County’s population, a larger number of seats would reduce the complexity of who is represented where. He added that because of that reality, it makes sense to make the number of Commissioners divisible by three, to allow there to be a rough balance between Ann Arbor, small towns and rural townships.

Kestenbaum added that he was in favor of expanding the number of seats because “I think there’s a benefit to having some diversity on the Board; not just demographic diversity, but ideological diversity. Not surprisingly, the Republican Chair – David Frey – was arguing that we should have 15 or more. Certainly, if we had 15 … there would probably be Republicans on the Board.”

The Commission currently has no Republican members. Washtenaw GOP Treasurer William Gordon – who spoke to this newspaper with the caveat that his comments represent his own opinion and not necessarily the official positions of the Washtenaw Republicans – said that he was disappointed in the result, but encouraged voters to vote Republican to allow the minority view of conservative voices to be heard on the Board, which is currently completely controlled by Democrats. Gordon was not party to the discussions directly, but Frey was, and voted against the measure.

“I think that [the 15 seat proposal] would have enabled better chances for representation. As it stands now, Republican voters in the county are completely disenfranchised on the current County Commission. … Now it is up to the voters in the districts to determine if they would like a [political] minority voice in representation on the commission, rather than one party rule,” Gordon said. “We haven’t won for the last cycle or two. It remains to be seen whether or not those districts are winnable. As far as effects over ten years, my concern is without a [political] minority voice, to keep the Commission aware of alternative points of view, there is a risk of them striding afield from things that are healthy for the County.”

Kestenbaum said that the districts remained so similar because although the county grew by about eight percent in population over a decade, the population grew relatively evenly across Washtenaw County. Washtenaw County went from 344,791 people in 2010 to 372,259 people last year, according to the Census, about 9.2 percent.

The previous version of the map, which the new map, shown at the top of this article, will replace. Image Credit: Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.

Districts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 did not really change. There were essentially only two changes to the district map. The biggest change came in the northwest of Washtenaw County, where Dexter Township will now be divided between districts one and two.

Saline, Manchester and about half of Milan will be represented in District 3, as well as all of York, Lodi, Saline, Bridgewater, Freedom, Sharon, and Manchester Townships.

The cities of Chelsea and Dexter will be represented by District 1, which will also cover Saline, Lima, Sylvan, and Lyndon townships, as well as most of Dexter Township. District two will cover Webster, Northfield, Ann Arbor, and Salem Townships, as well as the vast majority of Superior Township. Pittsfield Township will make up most of District 4.

The leader of the Washtenaw Democrats, Chris Savage, said that the changes to the board were in fact fair and that he declined pressure from multiple people within his party to gerrymander the districts in his party’s favor. Savage declined to say who encouraged him to do this.

“It wasn’t just the Republicans,” who wanted more districts, Savage said. “It was a small group of people who appeared at every one of our meetings … who were all for increasing the number of districts. David Frey was in favor of it, which makes sense to me because right now there are probably two or three competitive districts for Republicans. The more we split up the rural areas around, and create more districts, the more the Republicans will probably win.”

When pressed on this, Savage added “We’ve already got three competitive districts. [Districts 1, 2 and 3] are all gettable by Republicans if they organize. … They all have competitive districts, that’s why I didn’t feel at all bad about redistricting. And those districts, by the way, were all held recently held by Republicans; and they haven’t been changed significantly.”

Ann Arbor will retain three districts. But because instead of having districts divided into three strips, the central district has become essentially a central district for the city, surrounded by districts representing the western two-fifths and eastern two-fifths of Ann Arbor, respectively.

Augusta Township and the vast majority of Ypsilanti Township will be represented by District 5. The City of Ypsilanti, parts of Ypsilanti Township, and a tiny sliver of Superior Township will be represented by District 6.

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