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Michigan Court of Appeals hears arguments in Cass County apportionment case

Cass County Government
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casscountymi.org/1361/Apportionment-Map

The Michigan Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit alleging partisan gerrymandering in Cass County.

The lawsuit brought by Cassopolis resident and village trustee Jim Pedersen alleges that the board unnecessarily split the city of Dowagiac between two districts.

“Dowagiac is significant in that it is the only city in Cass County,” Pedersen said. “And the law is clear — you’re not to divide cities or municipalities unless you have to for population balance.”

Pedersen’s lawyer, Bradford Springer, argued Wednesday that the city’s population is nearly large enough for its own district, rendering the split unnecessary.

He also argued that the division could illegally dilute the city’s Democratic and minority vote.

“The voting-age population of the city of Dowagiac is 29 percent minority. The city, if undivided, is the only competitive area between Republicans and Democrats in the entire county,” Springer said.

Cody Mott, an attorney for the apportionment board, argued that the board didn’t consider partisan data when drawing the districts, and that splitting Dowagiac was necessary to keep the districts compact.

“Splits have to be made somewhere,” Mott said. “They came to the decision that it was best to make splits along existing boundary lines — whether that was a school district, which was one consideration, [or] precinct districts.”

“They recognized that the city of Dowagiac has two precincts — that allows for an easy split,” he added.

Aside from partisan advantage, the two parties argued the current map’s contiguity, or how districts border each other.

“In the approved map, there are isolated voters that are surrounded by somebody else’s district. The law says that districts should be contiguous,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen’s counsel argued that three districts in the approved map don’t meet that standard for contiguity. Mott argued that two of those three districts are “touch-point contiguous,” meaning they “touch like parts of a checkerboard — at the corner.”

Springer argued that a map proposed by Naomi Ludman — a member of the apportionment board and chair of the county Democratic party — better fits the population, contiguity and partisan standards laid out in state statute.

It’s unclear when the court will make a ruling, but petitions for the August primary are due April 19.

The chair of the apportionment board has declined to comment until there’s a ruling in the case.

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

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Gemma DiCarlo