By Ashlyn Myers
INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Democratic Party says the new redistricting maps for the U.S House of Representatives and Indiana House of Representatives, released Tuesday, are unfairly drawn, lack transparency and are gerrymandered.
In the days and weeks leading up to this first map unveiling, many citizens and Democratic officials have expressed concerns that Indiana’s redistricting process isn’t inclusive. In the 2011 redistricting process, Republican lawmakers in charge of the process were accused of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is when politicians intend to create unfair political advantages by drawing legislative district lines to increase their party’s population in each district. This makes it so that during election time, their party has a higher chance of winning and gaining political control.
Redistricting is triggered every 10 years by the release of a new census, which can show changes based on where citizens live. State lawmakers have to adjust voting districts to make sure each legislator has a generally similar population within their district. The 2020 U.S. Census results and impetus for the current redistricting process were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, wrote an editorial explaining the downsides of gerrymandering. “Delaware County is divided among five state representatives,” she said. “Only two of those representatives, including myself, actually live in Delaware County. Yet the other three representatives are expected to be advocates for the people of Delaware County in the General Assembly. How can they know what to advocate for if they don't live and engage with the community? Every county is unique. Every county has its own values, causes and issues.”
Mike Schmuhl, chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, shared similar frustrations about the new maps. He said in a Tuesday release, “Indiana Republicans have once again manipulated our Hoosier democracy in this year’s redistricting period. Over the summer, they held shadow hearings that felt more like a comment box, promised a process that would be ‘fair’ and transparent,’ and when it mattered most, manipulated the system once again to favor themselves over Hoosier voters.
“The Republicans’ new Indiana House and Congressional maps keep in place a broken system where self-serving politicians benefit at the expense of Indiana families. These maps were drawn unfairly, without transparency, and are gerrymandered.”
During the public hearings, many voters felt like their “voices were being taken away,” said Drew Anderson, director of communications for the Indiana Democratic Party. When people would attempt to ask questions, including himself during testimony, legislators weren’t open to answering them.
Anderson also said that the way the lawmakers cut the suburbs shows that Republicans know they are losing voters in these areas and that the new lines serve as some sort of “padding” to keep their supermajority.
“In the months and years ahead, Indiana Democrats will continue to work overtime to deliver a brighter future for all Hoosiers where voting rights are expanded, workers make a livable wage to provide for their families, our public schools and teachers become some of the best in the country, and every Hoosier feels as though they belong,” said Schmuhl. “Our party is big, bold and welcoming, and we look forward to offering Hoosier voters a better path forward in the elections ahead.”
Other lawmakers shared their opinions about the maps via press releases:
- House Speaker Todd Huston: “These maps follow all statutory and constitutional requirements and reflect the population trends over the last 10 years. For the new House maps, Rep. Steuerwald took a holistic approach and worked tremendously hard to keep communities of interest together with a focus on compactness.
- Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford: “I have been pleased with the high level of collaboration between the House and Senate as we have worked to prepare our new draft congressional map. I look forward to continued conversations with members of the public and other legislators on this proposal as we move forward.”
- House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne: “While we don’t know everything about these newly drawn districts, we do know that any map drawn with the assistance of high-priced D.C. consultants, using advanced political and consumer data points, will benefit the Indiana GOP—not Hoosier voters.”
Julia Vaughn is the policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan organization that “works to promote open, ethical and accountable government for every Hoosier.” She said the current redistricting process is a “complete conflict of interest.”
“Today what we’re dealing with is a complete lack of transparency,” said Vaughn. “You know, this is my third go-round of redistricting. I was there firsthand in 2001 and 2011, and this is the first time I can remember that maps have been released online with no in-person explanation.”
Vaughn also said that Common Cause and other advocates have asked for the proposed districts to be released in a shapefile format, which is an electronic format that can be used to build districts by combining census data and political precinct data. She believes if her organization had access to this, it would be much better prepared to do analyses to show how voters and communities could be impacted by the proposed districts.
“Unfortunately, when we have supermajorities controlling everything, we’re only going to get one option on the table,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn recommends concerned people raise their voices.
“If you’re one of the fortunate people that doesn’t have to work a 9-5, I would encourage you to come to the Statehouse Wednesday or Thursday to the committee hearings and make your voice heard,” she said. “ If you are unable to do that, which is completely understandable, contact your legislators. Tell them you want them to not vote for any maps that weren’t drawn in a transparent manner.”
The public meetings are set for 1 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. Thursday in the House Chamber.
Ashlyn Myers is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.