How are county commissioner districts created?
The county apportionment process takes place every 10 years following the census, to draw county commission districts.
County commissioners serve districts where they live, geographic boundaries meant to ensure that the residents of each county have equal representation on their county board. There are currently 622 county commissioners serving Michigan’s 83 counties. The process of drawing county commissioner districts, called apportionment, takes places every 10 years following the census. Since 2020 was a census year, the apportionment process will take place this year in all 83 Michigan counties.
In all but one of Michigan’s 83 counties, the districts are designed, or apportioned, by the apportionment commission. In counties that have adopted the optional unified form of county government and has an elected county executive, the apportionment commission is the county board of commissioners. Oakland County is the only county currently fitting that description.
Michigan law, MCL 46.403, defines the apportionment process. The apportionment commission is made up of the county clerk, the county treasurer, the county prosecuting attorney, and the county chairpersons of the two political parties receiving the greatest number of votes cast for secretary of state in the last preceding general election. Since this law was written in 1966, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” ruling, that has always been the Republican and Democratic parties.
Michigan law charges the apportionment commission with determining the number of districts within ranges prescribed in the law. The number of commissioners in each county ranges from 5-21, with the maximum number set for counties based on their total population, in MCL 46.402. The law also charges the commission to do their work within 60 days of the publication of the latest United States decennial census.
MCL 46.404 defines eight guidelines for apportionment and lists them in order of importance. The guidelines are:
- Single member districts of “…as nearly of equal population as practicable.”
- Contiguous – a district must be entirely connected
- Compact and “…as nearly square shape as is practicable.”
- Can’t combine parts of a township and parts of a city unless “…needed to meet the population standard.”
- Can’t divide townships, cities, or villages unless “…necessary to meet the population standard.”
- Voting precincts can only be divided if “…necessary to meet the population standard.”
- Residents of state institutions who can’t’ register to vote are not to be included in the count.
- “Districts shall not be drawn to effect partisan political advantage.”
Once the apportionment commission adopts a map, it is filed with the county clerk, forwarded to the Secretary of State, and made available to voters at no cost. The law gives registered voters the right to petition the court of appeals to review the plan to determine if it meets the requirements, and the findings of the appeals court may also be appealed first to the Court of Appeals, and if necessary, to the Michigan Supreme Court.
As a public body, meetings of the Apportionment Commission are subject to the Open Meetings Act, and residents have a right to attend meetings and provide public comment.
Residents interested in following the progress of their county apportionment process should visit their county website for more information.
The newly drawn districts will be used for commissioner elections in 2022 through 2030, when the results of the 2030 census will be used to create new districts.
Michigan State University Extension provides educational programs for elected and appointed officials in Michigan and also provides programs for youth about government through 4-H programs. Contact your county MSU Extension office for more information or check out our website.