By Bryan Wells
INDIANAPOLIS— Advocates for redistricting reform said time is running out for Indiana to enact changes that will put voters ahead of political advantage.
Bills that would enact their top priority – an independent nonpartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional boundaries – have already died this session, as they have in past sessions. Now, they are hoping to pass a measure, Senate Bill 105, which would set standards for drawing the maps that emphasize communities over politics.
Adding to the pressure: The next district maps will be drawn in 2021, after the 2020 census.
“The clock is certainly ticking,” Julia Vaughn, a leader of the Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting, said at a Statehouse news conference Thursday.
While it’s possible to enact reforms in the 2020 session, she and other advocates of redistricting reform want to see action this year.
Three legislators – Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R- Indianapolis; Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis and Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel – each said this is an issue voters care about.
“I can’t drive without seeing one of the (“Redistricting Reform Now”) yard signs in my district,” Ford said.
And Schaibley said that as she went door-to-door in her Hamilton and Boone County district talking to voters, “this was a major issue.”
“It’s the fair thing to do. It’s the right thing to do,” she said.
Ruckelshaus, R- Indianapolis, recalled that when he was in the House in the early 1990s, Democrats who then held the majority “literally drew me out of my district.”
Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, speaking on redistricting efforts in Indiana.
Photo by Andrew Longstreth TheStateHouseFile.com
That could still happen under SB 105, but not on purpose. Lawmakers could no longer take into account where incumbents live as they draw the districts. But they would have to consider minority populations, city and county boundaries, trying to keep from splitting them when possible while keeping districts compact and contiguous.
The Senate defeated a proposed amendment by Ford that would have specified that no district could be created that unduly favored a person or political party. But the bill setting the standards narrowly passed, 26-23, and advocates are now hoping it will get a a hearing in the House Election Committee. Vaughn and the lawmakers urged people to write to their legislator and to Rep. Tim Wesco, the Osceola Republican who is chairman of that committee, asking for that hearing.
Mike Bowling, Senior Pastor at Englewood Christian Church, said at the Statehouse news conference that this is about giving people a voice in the political process.
“If you love your neighbor, you want to hear their voice, and you want to hear their voice on the issues that matter to them,” he said.
He cited one Senate district that is mostly in rural Hancock and Shelby counties, but juts into central Indianapolis.
“That’s the kind of things that this bill will address, to not split up neighborhoods. We watch the destruction and the discouragement that comes every time neighborhoods are split up,” Bowling said. “All of these things matter.”
Bryan Wells is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.