Indiana Daily Student

Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission listens to concerns at public hearing Wednesday

<p>The Indiana Statehouse is located in downtown Indianapolis. The Indiana legislature will meet this fall after the 2020 census data is released for a special session to redraw legislative districts.</p>

The Indiana Statehouse is located in downtown Indianapolis. The Indiana legislature will meet this fall after the 2020 census data is released for a special session to redraw legislative districts.

Members of Indiana’s 9th Congressional District commented on redistricting, gerrymandering and the importance of representation in government at a virtual public hearing conducted by the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission Wednesday night. This meeting is the fourth of nine hearings that will take place in each district.

ICRC member Christopher Harris and the other nine board members spoke about how important redistricting, or the redrawing of an area’s political districts, is and why it needs to be done correctly.

“If people feel like their vote doesn’t matter because of a gerrymandered district, then that just negates the process of having a democracy,” Harris said.

The ICRC is a group of three Republicans, three Democrats and three nonpartisan members who gather and compile community testimony from all nine congressional districts on redistricting and present that information to the Indiana General Assembly, according to the All IN for Democracy, an organization that supports independent redistricting.

This year, the Indiana General Assembly will determine how Indiana’s state and federal voting districts will be redrawn using data from the 2020 U.S. Census to equalize population across the districts. 

The assembly is having a special session this fall to redraw district lines because the U.S. Census Bureau is distributing the specific redistricting data on Sept. 30.

The ICRC is concerned about redistricting because the Republicans have a supermajority in the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives. This means there are enough Republican representatives that they could meet and vote without Democrats present. So, Republicans have the opportunity to gerrymander, or manipulate the boundaries of a political district to favor one party, said Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana policy director.

“The problem, of course, is we give this job to exactly the wrong group of people,” she said. “It results too many times in legislators choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians.”

Bloomington resident George Hegeman said the areas surrounding Lake Monroe should be considered a community of interest that should be in the same voting districts because the lake provides drinking water to more than 120,000 people.

Hegeman said Bloomington is a primary example of gerrymandering because of the way some of its voting districts have been split up.

“Although I am a Republican, I see this pie which our town has been carved into,” he said. “Metropolitan areas have been tied to rural areas so that, in effect, the metropolitan areas are disenfranchised.”

Other members of the 9th District commented on three different aspects of drawing districts: compactness, which is how spread out the direct would be; incumbent blindness, which means the district would not be drawn around the incumbent; and competitiveness, which means different political groups would be represented more equally to foster more competition between future candidates.

Attendee Ralf Shaw said compactness was her lowest priority because, if the district is drawn around a smaller area of people who live similar lifestyles and party affiliations are grouped together, they can be radicalized. She also said compactness would not foster competitiveness, which can lead more politicians to be less responsive to the needs of the district.

“We are better off and our representatives are more likely to do a good job in legislating if they have to respond to districts that have political differences,” she said.

Lester Wadzinski said he does not like that either party could have a supermajority because it means they can have a large influence on which people will be elected in the next 10 years. 

“I really feel this has kind of turned into a one-party system,” he said. “Does this party, one party, get so strong that they feel they can get away with such outrageous behavior and not be held accountable because they know they can’t get beat?”

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