The 2020 census data used to draw Indiana's legislative and congressional districts was released on Aug. 12. On Monday, legislation establishing 159 electoral districts was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb. From start to finish, it took just 54 days to establish districts that will shape Indiana politics and policy for the next decade.
Indiana's new legislative maps will continue to give outsized influence to rural interests, even as the state's population shifts to urban areas. The new congressional districts were reshaped by the GOP-controlled General Assembly to ensure Republicans strengthen their hold on once-competitive districts. Political polarization will continue to grow and voter participation will decline as many Hoosiers realize their votes count for little.
“We wanted to have maps that honored the goals and what we were trying to accomplish,” Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston said last month. “People are going to think what they want to think.”
We think the process was rushed and done without public participation. We think Indiana needs to establish an independent redistricting commission.
State Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, offered an amendment last month to require maps drawn by an independent panel in 2031. He asked how it could not be a conflict of interest when elected officials participated in drawing their own districts. As with all other redistricting amendments offered by Democrats, Qaddoura's measure was rejected.
But Republican Sen. Ron Grooms of Jeffersonville supported the amendment. He's among a half-dozen lawmakers who have announced they will not seek reelection after their current terms.
His vote gives hope to Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana.
“I think that people who are leaving the legislature can sometimes make this very hard vote easier, if they know they don't have to stick around,” she said in an interview. “I think the belief is they will be punished (by legislative leaders) if they go out on a limb and support redistricting reform.”
Vaughn said the just-ended redistricting process will leave “a lot of bad memories on both sides of the aisle.”
“People have gotten an up-close and very ugly picture of how this works,” she said. “Frankly, the chorus for 'we want a citizens commission' was so loud. At every public hearing; at every legislative hearing. People just kept saying it. I think we've gotten to that point where we have to keep pushing.”
Fort Wayne residents can see how ugly the process was in the newly drawn state Senate maps. The city of Fort Wayne, where Democrats have held the mayor's office since 2000, was sliced into four districts. The new Senate District 14 sweeps the heavily Democratic southeast quadrant into the same district with Woodburn, Waterloo and Butler.
The same blunt instrument was used elsewhere: Senate District 46 long included Floyd County, Clarksville and most of Jeffersonville. The new map splits the area into two more rural districts. In Tippecanoe County, where Lafayette/West Lafayette is divided only by the Wabash River, residents of the urban area are now split among two districts.
Map-drawing matters. Representatives elected by rural constituencies are more likely to dismiss the effects of school privatization because most voucher schools are in cities, for example.
“We intend to let people know who all was in on this gerrymander,” said Vaughn. “I think we've gotten to the point where this can be a real reelection issue. Those people who voted for these maps, we're going to be sure that their voters know that. Hopefully, they will atone for their sin by perhaps taking a pro-citizens commission position.”
Members of All IN for Democracy, the statewide coalition advocating for redistricting reform, hope the citizen model can take root as redistricting is done at the local level in 2022. Vaughn said the city of Bloomington adopted an ordinance to establish a nine-member redistricting commission: three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents.
“We hope that other cities and perhaps counties will follow Bloomington's lead and put citizens in charge of local redistricting,” she said. “I think if we could get enough local governments doing that, that would be some real pressure on the General Assembly to get their act together.”
Lawmakers rushed to make Indiana just the fourth state to approve new maps. In the upcoming session, push them to quickly establish a citizen redistricting commission.