Hoosier voters voice concern about proposed election maps

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Stepping to the lectern in the Indiana House Chamber, Rev. Fatima Yakubu-Madus echoed the frustration of many who attended Thursday’s public hearing on redistricting when she emphatically asked state representatives, “What can we do, what can we say to change your mind?”

The minister with the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis and several others testified during a second day of hearings before the House Elections and Apportionment Committee on the proposed House and congressional district maps that were unveiled Sept. 14.

Many of those who spoke thanked the committee for their work and for listening, but over and over again members of the public voiced their dissatisfaction and concern. They said the redistricting process was being rushed, and they argued the news maps being considered would diminish the voices of minorities and unfairly favor Republicans.

Yakubu-Madus worried not all Hoosiers would have an equal voice under the new maps. She asked the legislators to redraw the maps or to consider a map drawn by a member of public.

“We need you to hear us,” she said. “We need you to take into consideration what the people are saying.”

Several who testified criticized the leadership for not giving the public enough time to analyze the maps before the hearings were held. Moreover, they noted the shapefiles that contain the demographic data the House would have used to redraw the districts were not released until the day after the proposed maps were posted online.

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, told Indiana Lawyer her organization had made a direct request for the shapefiles to be made available at the same time as the maps were unveiled.

She said the data in the shapefiles is critical to understanding how the new districts will perform.

House Republicans did not respond by IL deadline as to why the release of the data was delayed. Also, Senate leaders did not respond to a question asking if they would include the shapefiles when they release their proposed maps on Sept. 21.

Testifying before the committee, Robby Slaughter of Hamilton County also highlighted shapefiles as being a necessary part of making the redistricting process transparent. That data, he explained, would allow the public to reverse-engineer the proposed maps to filter through demographics such as income, age and other aspects to determine how competitive and fair the districts are.

“Having districts that are competitive is better for everyone and it’s better for party members, too, because you have to make your arguments that much stronger if you’re going after voters who aren’t necessarily going to vote for you anyway,” Slaughter said. “If we want Indiana to be the best state in the country, we have to have the best districts in the country. We have to have the most competitive opportunities for everyone to compete.”

When he returned to his seat, Slaughter looked at the other citizens sitting near him and expressed his frustration at not getting any response from the committee members. “No questions,” Slaughter said as he shrugged his shoulders.

An analysis of the House maps conducted for the voting-rights group Women4Change concluded the proposed new election districts are among the most skewed in the country. The redistricting plan review found Republicans would likely win 69 of the 100 Indiana House seats while typically receiving 56% of the vote. Republicans now hold a 71-29 majority in the Indiana House.

Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University who analyzes election data, said the proposed maps that will be used for the next 10 years boost Republicans by creating overwhelmingly Democratic districts to limit the impact of those voters.

“I think that while geography or other factors could explain part of these biases, these are so extreme that really nothing but politically intentional gerrymandering could really explain the extent of the bias in these maps,” Warshaw said.

House Republican leaders didn’t immediately comment Thursday on Warshaw’s analysis, but said Wednesday they focused their map drawing on factors such as not splitting up cities and counties. Also, they said the new maps reflect the state’s political leanings.

Republicans have used the commanding majorities they’ve held in the Legislature since the 2012 elections to advance issues such as expanding state funding of vouchers for students attending private schools, toughening anti-abortion laws and approving the contentious state religious objections law in 2015.

House Democratic leaders have stated previously that they would not be offering their own maps to counter the Republican proposals. Speaking after the public hearing held in August at the Statehouse that was part of the House and Senate election committees’ listening tour, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the House minority caucus was not going to play the game of presenting “some kind of Democratic dream map” and then complain when it is not adopted.

“I hope to give the Legislature an opportunity to vote on … maybe a map drawn by a member of the public,” Pierce said. “We can look and see what other people are recommending, and I think just the fact that those people will not have this direct interest in it as members of the Legislature gives it a lot better chance of it being a good map for the state of Indiana.”

During Thursday’s hearing, the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission unveiled the winner of its public mapping competition. The contest enabled members of the public to crunch the 2020 census data and draw their own Indiana House, Senate and congressional districts.

Jorge Fernandez of Fort Wayne received the award for the best House district map.

The House elections committee, which is scheduled to vote Monday on endorsing the new maps, also heard bipartisan criticism of the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts aimed at protecting the 7-2 Republican hold on those seats.

The major changes shift the northern tier of Democratic-leaning Marion County from the 5th District that Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz narrowly won last year to that of Indianapolis Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, while moving the GOP-leaning southside of Indianapolis from Carson’s district to the 6th District now held by Republican Rep. Greg Pence.

Misty Hollis of Richmond, the Republican chairwoman for the 6th District, said the district has been largely made up of eastern Indiana’s rural areas and small cities for decades and that the changes would reduce the influence of rural voters.

“In today’s polarizing environment, one would think that every attempt would be made to make sure that the voices of those who live in rural Indiana would be heard,” Hollis said.

The redrawn 5th District held by Spartz has the bulk of its population in affluent Hamilton County, where she lives just north of Indianapolis, while extending north to include the cities of Anderson, Marion, Kokomo and Muncie, which have faced factory closures and population declines for decades.

Destiny Scott Wells, an attorney who lives in Marion County, cited statistics which showed the new 5th District as including more white voters while more minority voters are being packed into the 7th District represented by Carson. She asked the committee to “stop abusing the redistricting process” and not “starve the 5th District of its evolving and diverse voice” by crowding minorities into the 7th District.

House Committee Chair Timothy Wesco queried Scott Wells.

“As you’re aware, Hamilton County grew enormously in population, therefore requiring that district contract,” he said. “How would you have like to have seen it contract?”

Scott Wells responded, “I would have liked to have seen it contract and not (along) racial lines that are masquerading as compactness.”

The full House is scheduled to debate and vote on the maps Sept. 22 and 23.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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