Why the census really counts: How Michigan’s district maps affect your local communities

Census counts have a substantial impact not only on funding and public services, but they also directly impact governmental representation at the local, state, and national level. With a growing population in the city of Wyoming, it’s all the more important that everyone is counted in order to ensure adequate resources and proper representation.

“For a city like Wyoming, we have been growing over the past couple of decades, and we've been diversifying greatly in terms of who's here, what their background is, where they've come from, what's important to them,” says Wyoming Deputy City Manager Megan Sall. “And so in order for us to be responsive and responsible as city government, it's very important that we know what their needs are.”

Why representation matters

On a local level, Wyoming is split into three wards and 30 precincts. When population sizes shift, wards or precincts may need to be redrawn, which is why the census has such a big impact on representation. “When we talk about representation at the local level, each council member, the ones who represent wards, should be representing about the same amount of people,” says Sall. “And so that's when that becomes important at the state and national level.”

On the state level, every 10 years after the census is completed, district lines for the states are redrawn in order to accommodate for changing population and to make sure districts have nearly equal population sizes. Through apportionment and based on population, Michigan will be given a portion of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

“At peak population, Michigan was appointed 19 Representatives in Congress as a result of census data,” says State Representative for the 76th House District, Rachel Hood, in an email response. “Today, after decades of population decline and under-counting, Michigan now has 14 Representatives in Congress. Keeping our current number of seats depends on great turnout in the 2020 census. With more people representing us in Congress, Michigan has more influence in the decisions of the country.”

While it can be difficult to see the direct link between the census, lines on a map, and national policy, it all has to do with representation, which an accurate census count provides. City of Wyoming 2012 Precinct map.

Congress and its legislation has the power to shape the country. The House can elect the president if there is a tie in the electoral college and it can also impeach federal officials and introduce bills. The Senate can ratify treaties and confirm appointments made by the President. A majority vote in Congress sends legislation to the President’s desk to be signed into action.

Representation in Congress is directly correlated to a map of districts in each state, which in Michigan, is determined in part by the census and a new commission.

A history of redistricting in Michigan

The upcoming redistricting in Michigan will be completed by an independent redistricting commission comprised of 13 members, including four Democrats, four Republicans, and five members who are either independents or belong to third parties. But this wasn’t always the case. The Michigan State Legislature used to be responsible for redistricting, requiring a majority vote to be passed and the potential to get vetoed by the governor, which meant that the political party with the most power had the potential to determine district lines.

“There's been questions or accusations about who is drawing these districts, and are they influenced by either political party, and are they drawn to ensure that more individuals from a certain party are in a district or out of the districts? I think that's been the concern in the past,” says Sall.

In April 2019, the Federal Court ruled that Michigan’s district maps were illegally gerrymandered and would need to be redrawn. The districts were drawn and adopted by Republicans in 2011, when they controlled both the House and Senate, along with the governor’s seat. The maps were never redrawn, however, when the Supreme Court closed the case.

“This previous process, prior to proposition 2 that passed in 2018 was not working for residents. In some cases I have heard that people would not even consider running for a certain state position because they were told it was a seat that could only be held by a certain political party,” says Grand Rapids City Commissioner Milinda Ysasi in an email response.

Ysasi says that population shifts lead to cultural change, which can have an impact on both the state and national level. “I think we have seen this in certain states with the Latino vote ... We saw last night the first Black woman nominated to be a VP candidate on a national party platform; growing up I did not see people like Kamala on primetime,” says Ysasi, the day after Senator Kamala Harris made her address at the Democratic National Convention.Grand Rapids City Commissioner Milinda Ysasi.

“We would hope this would impact redistricting, but in our state the majority political party has drawn the lines of the state legislature. While the rules can’t cross county boundaries and they have to keep cities, townships/villages together, this process did not result in the best interests of Michiganders.”

A new commission takes shape

When Proposal 2 was passed, it amended the state Constitution, giving the redistricting power to an independent commission made up of citizen applicants, requiring the votes of seven members, including at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents to pass new district maps. The group will also be required to take public input.

“That committee will do the work of examining where are people living, how many people to a district, and do any of the districts need to be changed,” says Sall.

Two lawsuits were filed, Daunt v. Benson and Michigan Republican Party v. Benson, and later consolidated, to try and block the new commission, but in July, they were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Janet Neff.

“Hopefully with the passage of prop 2 and the redistricting commission that has now been named we will see lines that are drawn that will better reflect the community versus drawing lines that keep a district solidly safe for one political party,” says Ysasi.

On August 17, the 13 members were selected for the commission. With the new population counts from the 2020 census, the district maps will go into effect by November 1, 2021 in time for the 2022 elections.

Why the census matters

Hood says that the census response in Michigan has been great so far, but that 40% of the population still hasn’t responded.

“Michigan’s state budget has been about $60 billion for the last twenty years. Roughly $50 billion of those dollars come from our federal government, a large portion of which is determined by the US Census count. Each citizen who does not respond to the census means Michigan leaves $1800 (or more) on the table per year for the next 10 years,” says Hood.

There are many barriers that can prevent people from being counted in the census, which makes it all the more important for diverse and growing cities like Wyoming to achieve accurate counts.

“Even in a normal year, people of color, immigrants, and other systemically marginalized groups have been hesitant to share their locations and personal information with the census, due to living under decades of racism, fear of deportation, imprisonment or other systemic injustices,” says Hood.State Representative Rachel Hood.

She says that due to recent escalated political rhetoric, these communities are at an increased risk of being underrepresented in the census.

“Community leaders are very concerned to ensure that people are returning their census information, to protect representation and also to ensure that the state is able to obtain the federal resources it needs to protect public health, educate our children, fix our infrastructure and provide medical care, among other services funded by federal dollars.”

“If we don't know who's living here, again, we don't know how to properly resource communities. And if there are people who choose not to fill out the census who are living here, but then our communities don't receive the funding that we need to be able to support them, that could further exacerbate some of the challenges that they may be experiencing,” says Sall.


Growing Wyoming is a four-part series highlighting the people, neighborhoods and small businesses in the city of Wyoming impacted by the 2020 census. This mini-series is designed to uplift community voices, and encourage all Wyoming residents to get involved and be counted.

Photo of Milinda Yasisi by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.

Photo of Rachel Hood courtesy http://www.hoodforthehouse.com.

Photo of Megan Sall courtesy Terry Johnston
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