Redistricting should be about fair representation

Lawmakers in Indianapolis are slated to begin redrawing our state’s congressional districts beginning this fall. There’s a real danger that Republicans, who hold the majority in the Indiana General Assembly, will use this opportunity to further gerrymander Indiana, drawing the lines of congressional districts to optimize for their own re-election.

We’ve seen this done before, in Indiana and elsewhere. For example, in North Carolina in 2010, a redistricting process based on preserving political power led to the GOP holding 10 of North Carolina’s 13 seats in the US House of Representatives, although the popular vote count was almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. One can see how this is harmful for democracy and representation, as the composition of North Carolina’s congressional delegation didn’t line up with the will of the people.

Indiana is facing similar challenges. WTHR reported on a review conducted by Dr. Chris Warshaw, a George Washington University Associate Professor of Political Science, for the voting rights group Women 4 Change. Dr. Warshaw, an expert in gerrymandering, found that “Indiana General Assembly and legislative maps are now more biased towards one party than 95% of maps enacted in other states across America,” as WTHR reported.

In the ten years since the last redistricting period in Indiana, Republican leaders at the state level have exploited that bias to pass “right to work” laws and create the “work more for less” economy we live in, prioritize partisan culture wars — like RFRA — that targeted our friends and family members, and defund Indiana’s public schools in favor of an unregulated choice system.

Gerrymandering also creates a system where politicians often feel that their re-election is a sure thing, leading them to ignore the needs or desires of their constituents and communities. This in turn leads to voters feeling disenfranchised. More than one third (54) of Indiana General Assembly races were unopposed in the 2016 general election, and Indiana had the lowest voter turnout (28%) in America and the worst turnout in 72 years (source: ICRC).

IUPUI law professor Dr. Sheila Kennedy put it best when she told WTHR, “Nobody these days relinquishes power simply because it’s the right thing to do, or because it’s good government. They’re not going to willingly cede authority. The question is, do we want to retain our position as a democratic republic? And do we believe that the people should rule?” Americans need to keep in mind the rather precarious position our democracy finds itself in and take action to protect democracy. 

Thankfully, there are groups working against the implementation of gerrymandering. One is Common Cause Indiana. They are fighting to ensure that there are free and fair elections for every voter, with equal representation for all. Common Cause has set up the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC), a bipartisan group that’s working to draw up fair maps for our state. The ICRC is holding meetings throughout the state to hear from Hoosiers about what they want in the redistricting process, and will send the results to the statehouse.

We must talk about this process with our community, our neighbors, and our family members — even ones who are happy with the way things are now. When drawing the lines of fair representation becomes a purely partisan process, everyone loses in the long run. We all deserve an Indiana future with free, fair, and competitive districts and elections so we can create more balance in our government and better laws and outcomes for all Hoosiers.

Questions and Answers

What is the timeline for redistricting?

  • State law requires the Indiana General Assembly to redraw state legislative and Congressional districts in 2021. The General Assembly is expected to convene in late September or October to do this.
  • County commissioners have until December 31, 2021 to pass an ordinance with their new districts, or to reaffirm existing district lines as accurate.
  • City common council and town council districts are to be updated as well by December 21, 2022, though IC 3‐11‐1.5‐32 requires that these districts may not be changed after November 8, 2022 (the year preceding the next election of these offices).
  • School board redistricting deadlines depend on which state laws a school corporation was organized under.

All Indiana cities and towns (regardless of size) are commanded to redistrict (or certify that the current election district boundaries continue to be effective) in the second year following the decennial census (i.e. 2022). This means more conversation about municipal district boundaries will be occurring next year in preparation for the 2023 election cycle.

Who decides on the new districts?

At the state level, they are currently decided by the political party controlling the Indiana General Assembly.

In Wayne County, the process is led by the County Commissioners.

At the city/township level, the process is led by the members of the City Council or Town Council.

What does the redistricting process look like?

According to a memo released by staff at the Indiana Election Division (IED), these are the highlights in this process, which is more fully explained in the 2021 IED Precinct Change Memo (PDF):

  1. Review current precincts, available census data, population numbers, annexations, and local redistricting ordinances to identify potential technical corrections and precinct boundary changes.
  2. Submit the 2022 Precinct Change Survey to IED not later than noon ET on Wednesday, August 11, 2021.
  3. Coordinate with assigned IED staff person on precinct changes. Not later than Wednesday, August 18, the IED Co‐Directors will assign a staff person who will reach out to the point of contact identified on the survey.
  4. File proposed precinct changes packet to IED not later than noon ET, Friday, October 15, 2021.
  5. Ensure county executive (or entity responsible for reprecincting) has drafted or passed an ordinance with the new description of the precinct boundaries. IED has sample orders. An ordinance may become effective once IED approves the proposed precinct changes, and the public comment period expires.
  6. Publish legal notice in a newspaper once IED has approved the proposed reprecincting order. The last possible date to publish notice is Saturday, December 25, 2021. The precincts may go into effect 10‐days following the publication of the notice, if no objections have been filed with IED. (If it is not possible to publish notice by the deadline, the county petitions IEC for a hearing.)

What are the requirements for establishing the boundaries of a district?

Generally speaking, election districts need to be of equal population, be contiguous, and reasonably compact. However, state law does not require the equal population threshold be met for most county commissioner districts as those districts are established for candidate residency purposes only and then elected as an at‐large office where all voters of the county vote for the office.

How can I advocate for a fair redistricting and reprecincting process?

This article contains research and analysis by local contributor Chris Boswell as well as information supplied by the Democratic staff of the Indiana Election Division (thank you!), but Chris Hardie is responsible for any errors or inaccuracies.