By Jon King /

The first of five public hearings on the latest drafts of Michigan's new voting district maps was held last night in Detroit, with the head of the state's department of civil rights saying the draft congressional and legislative districts violate federal civil rights law and illegally disenfranchise minority voters.

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John Johnson Jr. told the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission the maps as now drawn “dilute minority-majority districts and strip the ability for a minority voter to elect legislative representatives who reflect their community,” and violate the Voting Rights Act, which requires voting districts that ensure minority groups have an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.

It is the first cycle with the state's new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, four and four, plus five Independents. The hearings, which continue tonight in Lansing, will take input like that from Johnson before deciding on final maps. Quentin Turner, program director for Common Cause Michigan, said having a citizen-led, on-the-ground process is a big change from previous years when whichever party in control in Lansing was able to shape the new maps.

"We have an independent commission, led by everyday Michiganders, who are taking in all this information, learning about the process, and then drawing lines not based off their political interests, but based off what Michigan voters and their input has informed them."

Another area of the state that will see big changes is the metro Lansing area, which is likely to become the center point for the 5th Congressional District. Currently, no incumbents live within the boundaries of that proposed district, but 8th District Democrat Elissa Slotkin, who lives in Holly, has indicated she will move to Lansing in order to run for re-election to a third term in Congress.

Turner thinks the draft maps can be improved, and said the Commission has been very receptive to public input. He added he hopes residents will make their voices heard in the next round of hearings.

Turner noted there is still time to make changes if people make their concerns known, and said issues like gerrymandering are what an independent commission is meant for.

Other hearings are planned Friday in Grand Rapids, and next week on Monday in Gaylord and Tuesday in Flint. Residents interested in commenting can also do so on the Commission's website at /

Public News Service contributed to this report.