“Slow Down” On Redistricting, Public Testifiers Tell House Elections Committee

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“Slow down” on redistricting, public testifiers tell House Elections Committee

By Taylor Wooten

TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—On the second day of rigorous public testimony, the message was clear: Many voters want more time before the proposed redistricting maps are set in stone and for legislators to hear their concerns.

Proposed redistricting maps for both the Indiana House of Representatives and U.S. House of Representatives were released by Indiana Republicans on Tuesday, with mixed reviews. Just two days later, the House Elections and Apportionment Committee heard passionate public testimony about the new maps for the second day.

Andrew Ellison, a speaker from Kokomo, holds up a yard sign from the last time his community had a representative who lived in the Sixth District. Photo by Taylor Wooten, TheStatehouseFile.com.

Critics accused the Indiana Republican supermajority of gerrymandering, or strategically drawing legislative districts to benefit the political party in power. Speakers said allotting more time for decisions that would impact the next 10 years of elections would allow Hoosiers to review the maps and give feedback, something they described as impossible in the short turnaround between the release of the maps and the hearing.

Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis student Nicholas Roberts posted data regarding the Congressional districts online but said other Hoosiers do not have the same resources. He and others advocated for a more transparent process.

“I guess my issue more so is just a lot of the process that has gone behind all this, as other people have mentioned,” Roberts said. “If I did not have knowledge of mapping software and five hours to kill, and a lot of things that most people don’t have, I don’t think the data would been published.”

Some mentioned “shapefiles,” or files that include location, demographical and geographical information. Robby Slaughter, an independent Indiana congressional candidate from Indianapolis, said these would help make the process more transparent.

“Getting the shapefiles would allow us to reverse engineer and determine the demographics for each of the districts,” Slaughter said, “to determine things like income distribution, age distribution, aspects of individual membership and voting patterns.”

These files were made available on the Indiana House GOP website following some technical hiccups.

One hot topic was the redrawing of the Fifth and Sixth Congressional Districts. Destiny Scott Wells, the Indiana Democrats deputy chair for coalitions and expansion, said the proposed maps removed Black voters from the Fifth District and added them to the Seventh District.

“Speaker of the House Todd Houston said yesterday that GOP followed the population data and the Seventh District ‘just kind of drew itself,” Wells said. “I’d have to say, the Seventh District has a pretty wicked sense of humor, or congressmen are just trying to choose their voters.”

The Fifth House District is currently represented by Republican Victoria Spartz. Spartz narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Christina Hale in the 2020 election. Meanwhile, the Seventh District is represented by Democrat Andre Carson.

Wells’ argument was met with roaring applause by the hearing attendees.

Brian Smith, Kosciusko County Democratic chair, testified that splitting his county into two different congressional districts will confuse voters.

“It’s just so frustrating when you see ads on TV and you think that’s who your choice of voters are, and then you get in the voting booth and it’s two names that you don’t recognize,” Smith said, adding that voters may not have time to do more research before entering the booth.

Dr. Christopher Warshaw, a national gerrymandering expert, provided data on Indiana’s proposed maps to Women4Change. His findings were frequently cited throughout the two-hour hearing.

Warshaw’s study found that 44% of Indiana voters vote Democratic, yet Democrats only hold 22% of the congressional seats and 31% of the seats in the Statehouse. The maps have “historically extreme levels of bias,” he said, with the proposed lines being more biased towards Republicans than 90% of all plans in the U.S. over the past 50 years.

More transparency and involvement of the process was the goal of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nonpartisan redistricting group led by Common Cause Indiana Director Julia Vaughn. Vaughn and several other members of the organization provided testimony at the meeting. The committee released a proposed House map Thursday, with congressional maps to come next week.

Rev. Fatima Yakubu-Madus of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis did not want to waste time repeating criticism of the maps that others had shared, she said. Instead, she asked what would cause lawmakers to change course.

“The only thing I want to ask this morning is, what can we do, what can we say to change your mind?” Yakubu-Madus said. “How can we say anything that will make you consider the maps that have been drawn by the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission?”

The current redistricting process was frequently criticized, with testimonies citing the hearing being held in the middle of a weekday during the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Speakers cited this as a reason why the meetings were less attended than in 2011. This criticism was also apparent at the earlier public hearing Wednesday. Speakers asked for night and weekend redistricting meetings in order to accommodate workers.

The committee is expected to reconvene on Monday for an amend-and-vote-only meeting, followed the same day by a full House vote on the committee’s report. The redistricting bill’s second reading is scheduled for Sept. 22.

The Indiana Senate maps, which have not yet been released, are expected to get a public hearing Sept. 27.

The most up-to-date schedule of events can be found at iga.in.gov.

FOOTNOTE: Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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