The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 12, 2021 1:00 am

Lawmakers pressed for fair redistricting

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A downright rowdy crowd of hundreds pressed lawmakers for fair, compact, non-political legislative and congressional maps as the last in a series of special redistricting hearings wrapped up Wednesday.

“Lawmakers need to get the maps right the first time around and not risk a lawsuit and right now signs point toward an unfair process,” said Ami Gandhi, a Fort Wayne native who now lives in Bloomington.

She noted that minority communities are being carved up into various districts to dilute their power.

Gandhi and dozens of others asked that lawmakers provide at least a week of time to analyze any proposed maps and that they host a second round of statewide hearings for testimony on actual proposals.

But neither is going to happen.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate elections committees said Wednesday that a House hearing and a Senate hearing will happen at the Statehouse in Indianapolis – the same for any other type of bill – but nothing more around the state. 

The House is expected to return Sept. 20 and kick off moving both bills – one for state districts and one for congressional maps. The Senate would return Sept. 27.

In both 2001 and 2011, there were just a few days between unveiling the maps and voting on them.

Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, said county clerks have a lot of deadlines to meet for the next election cycle.

“We have to be very careful about delaying this any longer than it has already been delayed,” he said.

Normally, redistricting would be done in April but the census data wasn't finalized due to the pandemic. It is being delivered to states today. Lawmakers every 10 years must redraw districts to reflect population shifts for Indiana's 100 House districts, 50 Senate districts and nine congressional districts.

Wesco and members of both elections committees heard a lot of frustration Wednesday over maps that have led to a Republican supermajority in both chambers and a lack of competition at the ballot.

“I think public input is always important and something that we're looking for and specifically taking notes,” he said. “There's a number of people who pointed out certain communities that they felt were unfairly divided or could better be in a single district. Those sorts of specific data I think will be helpful for us.”

There was a lot of anger and distrust over House Republicans already hiring a national GOP redistricting attorney as a consultant. Jason Torchinsky has been involved in multiple legal battles, defending Republican maps and opposing independent redistricting commissions.

Julia Vaughn, director of Common Cause Indiana, said putting Torchinsky in charge of following the Voting Rights Act is like appointing an arsonist as the fire marshal.

Wesco said he was brought on as a legal adviser to ensure the maps abide by complicated federal case law on redistricting.

Democrats pushed Republicans to abandon political data in the drawing of the maps, not consider incumbent addresses and stop splitting communities like Fort Wayne and Allen County into multiple districts to maintain Republican seats.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the hearings were just public relations meant to give an illusion of transparency. “Hiring a consultant shows this is going to be a full-bore gerrymandering process,” he said.

Fort Wayne businesswoman Marilyn Moran-Townsend – a Republican – urged lawmakers to listen to people who are tired of a lack of competition and extremes on both sides of the political spectrum.

“Unfair maps lead to less representative government, more extreme government and less responsive government,” she said.

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