CNHI Statehouse Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS — In the coming week, Hoosiers concerned about the once-in-a-decade map-drawing process for state districts will have a chance to tell lawmakers on a statewide listening tour with stops in each district.
The House and Senate election committee chairs will split responsibilities for eight of the districts, each overseeing four meetings Friday and Saturday, before both wrapping up the tour at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis Wednesday.
But with no maps available for the public and no census data, activists ask that Republicans overseeing the process take more time to get it right, rather than rushing to complete the redistricting process in September.
“Unlike other pieces of legislation that you can come back and fix if you find an unintended consequence — we can’t do that with redistricting. These maps will be in play for a decade,” Julia Vaughn, the policy director for Common Cause Indiana, said. “So we need to take the adequate time and care that’s needed to make sure that they will serve the interests of voters and communities.”
Vaughn said legislators may want speed to ensure they still live in their districts in time for elections next year but that comes at the cost to the public.
“That’s a process that’s completely focused on the needs of the legislators,” Vaughn said.
The process, which occurs after every Census, was delayed multiple times by COVID-19 and detailed data is scheduled to be released Aug. 16.
Some Democrats have criticized the plan because public comments will come before the general public sees any maps — meaning Hoosiers may not know exactly what they’re commenting on.
House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, asked that additional meetings be held after public maps are available. Otherwise, he said, the August meetings will be “of limited value.”
“I want the public to feel empowered to use their voices all the way through the process, not just when it’s convenient for Republican leadership,” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “I hope (Republican leaders) will take our advice and invite the public to participate in more discussions once the Republicans have presented real, tangible redistricting plans.”
Republicans, in their release, said they looked forward to hearing from the public but didn’t specify what sort of criteria mapmakers might prioritize, such as compactness or keeping communities of interest together.
“We look forward to hosting these important meetings across the state to hear directly from the public on Indiana’s redistricting process,” House Elections and Apportionment Committee Chair Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, said in a release. “Hoosiers can be confident that we’ll continue to meet all of our statutory and constitutional requirements.”
Some of the meetings won’t take place in their largest population centers, including Gary and South Bend, in District 1 and District 2, respectively. Those will take place in the less diverse and more Republican-friendly cities of Valparaiso and Goshen.
“It does seem that there was some selective siting of some of these hearings to perhaps seeking a favorable, hometown crowd,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn encouraged Hoosiers to let representatives know what they wanted from maps and said her organization would call for continued input after proposed maps were released.
“People need to have the time that it’s going to take for them to evaluate these proposals and what the impact will be on their communities,” Vaughn said.
Each meeting is set to occur on Ivy Tech campuses (all times local).
Rep. Wesco will host meetings in the “northern” half of the state on Friday, Aug. 6, in Lafayette at 10 a.m. and Valparaiso at 3 p.m.
Wesco will host meetings Saturday in Fort Wayne at 10 a.m. and Goshen at 4 p.m.
The Goshen meeting will be at the Ivy Tech campus in Goshen. The meeting will be aired online through the General Assembly’s website.
Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, Senate Committee on Elections Chair, will host meetings in the “southern” half of the state Friday in Anderson at 10 a.m. and Columbus at 4 p.m.
Ford will host meetings Saturday in Evansville at 9 a.m., and Sellersburg at 4 p.m.
The final meeting in the Indiana Statehouse at 1 p.m. will cover the 7th District, which includes Indianapolis.
Mapmakers haven’t yet revealed if there will be more meetings after publishing district maps.