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Common Cause says process rather than result is the problem with council’s redistricting maps, and offers a citizen-drawn alternative

Julia Vaughn says Indianapolis City-County Council leaders did some things right when they drew a proposed new map of council districts. But that doesn’t make up for flaws in how the map was created.

“I think, in some ways, they did good job,” said Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “There’s good things to be said about the map, but not a lot of good to be said about the process.”

Common Cause’s objection to the process is that the council’s map was created by leaders of the Democratic supermajority, working with the Ice Miller law firm. As with the legislative and congressional maps drawn last year by the General Assembly, the politicians choose their voters, not vice versa.

“It really is déjà vu all over again,” Vaughn said. “There are a lot of similarities to what saw in the state.”

The new city-county districts need to reflect population changes in the 2020 census and will shape local elections for the next 10 years. The council’s proposed map was approved April 12 by an 8-2 vote of the Rules and Public Policy Committee and could be adopted by the full council on May 2.

Common Cause released its own proposed map (above) last week and offered it as an alternative. That map was created by the volunteer Indianapolis Citizens Redistricting Commission, made up of three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents. They worked with a Common Cause mapping expert to draw proposed boundaries for 25 city-county council districts.

“We believe the best way to approach this is to ensure all perspectives are at the table,” Vaughn said. “It helps reorient all the discussions to the community level, to what’s best for the voters. All the voters.”

Beyond proposing districts that are contiguous and nearly equal in population, the citizens’ commission prioritized keeping together neighborhoods and other “communities of interest.” The map developed by the city-county council makes some progress in that regard, Vaughn said. Responding to suggestions, it doesn’t split neighborhoods like Fountain Square and Fletcher Place, which were divided in the old district maps. But it does break up cities like Beech Grove and Speedway.

The citizen’s commission also tried to create politically competitive council districts, but data analyst Aaron Olson found little difference in competitiveness between the commission and council maps.  Vaughn said the commission map creates seven swing districts compared to six in the council-drawn map. Currently, 19 council members are Democrats, five are Republicans and one is an independent.

A bigger difference is that the citizens’ commission drew its map without considering where council incumbents live, while the council-drawn map mostly avoids pitting members against each other.

Under the map drawn by the Democratic leadership, none of the council Republicans would have to run against another member, but four incumbent Democrats would face fellow Democrats if they run. One of them, Monroe Gray, said he was “targeted” for not going along with party leaders.

Vaughn said the commission map would create six open council districts with no incumbent. It would create three districts where two incumbents live and one where three incumbents live. Ten of the 25 districts would be “majority-minority,” with white people less than half the population.

When the council’s Rules and Public Policy Committee considered the proposed maps, only about 10 people showed up; but Vaughn rejected the idea that the low turnout means citizens don’t care. She said Common Cause will try to publicize the issue between now and the May 2 council meeting. — Steve Hinnefeld