The bipartisan panel will soon finish its work and create new voting maps for Indiana's nine U.S. House Seats and 150 state legislative Districts based on the most recent census data.
Despite its name and all the work it has done, the commission was created by a coalition advocacy groups. It does not play an official role in Indiana redistricting. The Republican-led Legislature is actually drawing the lines. It could ignore the commission and create districts that will help the GOP win more elections in the future.
Redistricting reform advocates hope that the Indiana commission, and other similar efforts elsewhere, can draw attention to partisan-gerrymandering in the public eye and press the mapmakers to moderate their political leanings. They hope that if this fails, their alternative maps could eventually be approved by judges who resolve redistricting lawsuits.
Julia Vaughn (executive director, Common Cause Indiana), stated that she believes the process will produce better maps -- maps better serving the interests of voters, communities, and other stakeholders.
With the release of 2020 census data, which shows how population has changed in cities, neighborhoods and counties over the past decade, redistricting has been accelerated. To rebalance the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislative districts, they must be redrawn. However, mapmakers have the ability to create an advantage for their party in future elections by dividing voters across multiple districts or packing them into one district. This is known as gerrymandering.
Redistricting could have serious consequences. To flip the U.S. House, Republicans must win five seats by 2022. To flip control of the U.S. House, Republicans must win just five seats in 2022. After the 2010 census, Republicans with more mapmaking power than Democrats used their advantage in state capitols for tax reduction, abortion restriction, and union bargaining rights.
Redistricting reform advocates argue that states can reduce gerrymandering by shifting the responsibility to independent commissions. Voters in Colorado, Michigan and New York have established redistricting committees almost twice as many since the last redistricting.
Ohio voters approved constitutional amendments which will require majority Republican legislators and executive officers to win support from minority Democrats in order to create new maps that last for a decade. Some advocacy groups didn't get enough support.
The Ohio Citizens' Redistricting Committee was formed by a coalition of left-leaning organizations. It launched a website and plans to create maps that will prioritize minority voters and other competitive races. The Republican advantage in Ohio's U.S. House seat is 12-4. They also have overwhelming majorities in both the legislative and executive chambers.
"This commission is modeling the process we believe the official should have done," stated Jeniece Brock (vice-chair of citizens commission, advocacy director for Ohio Organizing Collaborative).
Matt Huffman (Republican) is the President of the State Senate. He stated earlier this month that he wasn't familiar with the citizens commission. Huffman is a member of the official Ohio Redistricting Commission, which held its own series of public hearings last week about new state House and Senate districts.
Rob Albrecht-Mallinger, a retired software developer, was keen to testify at the hearings of the Indiana citizens commission. He believed that Indiana's districts had stifled political competition -- which has led to primaries in Indiana where candidates attempt to appeal to fringe voters.
Albrecht-Mallinger stated that "we've got technology to slicing and dicing votes down so well that it can appear as compact reasonable lines." "You are tricking everyone into voting for one-party partisanship contests in primaries, instead of an open election, where both parties have to appeal to as many people as possible," Albrecht-Mallinger said.
Republicans held a consistent partisan advantage in Indiana's congressional and state House elections this past decade, according to an AP analysis that identified states where parties won more seats than expected based on their percentage of votes. Albrecht-Mallinger lives in the state's northwestern 1st Congressional District, a Democratic-held seat that will have to expand geographically because the census showed it is nearly 22,000 residents short of the new population target.
The Republican Chair of the House Redistricting Committee, State Rep. Tim Wesco didn't address an AP question regarding the extent to which his panel would weigh the recommendations from the citizens commission. He did however, email his committee to say that he will "consider all feedback" as well as mentioning that many citizens had shared valuable information during the hearings.
Dan Vicuna is the national redistricting manager at Common Cause. He said that there are many efforts being made across the country to "shame the legislature into doing what is right."
Vicuna stated that if lawmakers do not adopt citizen's redistricting suggestions Vicuna believes it could be more powerful for judges who have less partisan involvement in the drawing of these districts.
Redistricting commissions may be viewed as a way of reducing partisanship by some, but this has not always been true in the states that have adopted them.
Missouri's bipartisan commission that redraws state House districts was unable to agree on a chair this month. The new bipartisan commission in Virginia couldn't agree upon a single consultant for the map-drafting process. Democrats criticized Arizona's commission in May for hiring consultants that they claimed were aligned with Republicans, and disfavored Latino communities. Voters Not Politicians, which sponsored the ballot initiative that created the commission, denounced a decision by Michigan commissioners recently to hire a law company that defended Republican-drawn map elsewhere.