For much of the previous century, voters in the city were part of at-large districts. That means that regardless of where residents lived, they voted for people tasked with representing the entirety of the city.
That all changed in 2012, after Detroiters held a referendum to elect city council members by single-member districts, packing residents into particular voting boundaries.
That referendum birthed the electoral districts the city has today, with seven separate, single-member districts and two at-large seats. But these districts are not fixed and the council is required to adopt new district boundaries every decade.
Last week, the city provided a look at the new single-member district options, one of which will be adopted in January.
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Yurij Rudensky is a Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. He says at-large voting districts can limit representation of minorities.
“Residential segregation and racially polarized voting can completely disenfranchise racial minorities within a jurisdiction that uses at-large elections,” says Rudensky.
Sheila Cockrel is the Chief Executive Officer of CitizenDetroit, a political consultant and former Detroit city councilmember. She says one of the drawbacks of single-member districts is that it gives district members more influence over development projects occurring in their area.
“District-based models, whether they are at state legislative levels or at local levels, tend to give whoever is the person who represents a district a greater level of influence on their colleagues on voting items,” says Cockrel.
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