CNHI Statehouse Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS — Just minutes after 21/2 hours of testimony criticizing the Republican redistricting process, activists learned that leaders didn’t plan to consider one of the citizens’ major demands: public, statewide hearings after the publication of new district lines.
Instead, Republicans Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, and Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said the once-in-a-decade map-drawing would reflect the normal legislative process, with limited public hearings in Indianapolis.
Neither lawmaker committed to keeping maps public for a period of time before voting on them, a concern for Julia Vaughn, the policy director of Common Cause Indiana.
Common Cause and several other voter advocacy and transparency organizations rallied at the Statehouse shortly before the hearing last Wednesday, asking lawmakers for more meetings and to have public maps available for two to four weeks before a vote?
Vaughn called the day’s testimony gratifying and exhilarating — until the hundreds of Hoosiers attending realized the Republicans, holding a supermajority over both chambers, didn’t intend to honor any of their requests.
“The problem is that the supermajority doesn’t have to listen,” Vaughn said. “It’s really frightening to think that they’ve set out a timeline that would provide no additional public (statewide) hearings and very little time for people to evaluate the maps that they’re now going behind closed doors to draw.”
After the Wednesday hearing, Wesco also didn’t commit to a length of time for the maps to be publicized before lawmakers voted to confirm the new district lines, saying he’d consult with leadership. He also didn’t answer whether home addresses for incumbent members would be considered in the process.
Democrats revealed that they’d been told to expect to return to session Sept. 20 for the House and Sept. 27 for the Senate to vote on new districts.
Because of the redistricting delays, legislators left the Statehouse in April without formally ending the 2021 session, leaving it open to call back legislators for redistricting in the fall.
On Thursday, after the hearing, the U.S. Census Bureau released the information Republicans needed to start the redistricting process, meaning the statewide mapping tool could be public soon. It confirmed what most map-makers already knew: population continued to dwindle in the majority of Indiana’s rural communities while Central Indiana’s growth continued.
Last week, Wesco said it would take a few weeks after getting the Census Bureau’s raw data but said his rough timeline was “the middle of September sometime.”
Vaughn’s organization helped establish an independent Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, which conducted its own statewide hearings and delivered a report to Wesco and Ford about priorities for mapping.
The commission will publish its own mapping tool that will let Hoosiers submit finalized maps or communities of interest to lawmakers in a competition. Vaughn said the commission aimed to have it running by or before Aug. 30.
“You can talk about (redistricting) criteria all day long, but you know the best way to make sure what you want is actually realized … is to draw a map yourself and give it to legislators,” Vaughn said. “(These hearings) shouldn’t all just be for show; (they) should be to really end up with the best maps possible.”
This article was made available through Hoosier State Press Association.