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Lawmakers come to Lafayette to listen, voters ask if rigged redistricting is in the cards, anyway

Lafayette, Ind. — If there was much trust in the room that the Indiana General Assembly’s Republican supermajority would resist a temptation to redraw congressional and state legislative maps to guarantee dominance for another decade, it didn’t show Friday.

At Lafayette’s Ivy Tech campus, the first stop in the General Assembly’s two-day tour of the state’s nine congressional districts to get feedback on the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, constituents peppered lawmakers with voting statistics that showed Indiana leans right, but nowhere near enough to hold more than 70% of the seats in the Indiana House, the Indiana Senate and in Congress.

“Why is this?” Barb Brown, a Lafayette resident, asked. “It appears that the legislators are picking their voters instead of the voters choosing their legislators.”

During the two-hour session, 20 speakers encouraged 10 lawmakers assembled to consider some fundamentals – building compact, competitive districts, avoiding slicing and dicing communities of interest and keeping the redistricting process transparent.

During the two-hour session, 20 speakers also cast doubt on the General Assembly’s interest in doing that as long as it stiff-armed independent oversight.

The cost of protecting incumbents and political party power, they said in varying ways, would be 10 years of lower voter turnout, candidates in predictably safe districts unwilling to debate during campaign season, representatives unwilling to be out with the public once they win, disinterest in a system that can ignore all but the most powerful lobbying interests, increasingly partisan legislation and overall distrust in the state’s direction.

A warning about gerrymandered congressional and Statehouse districts went up from Rahul Durai, a sophomore at West Lafayette High School, who is scheduled to vote in his first election in 2026, four years after the redrawn maps will be in play.

“The next generation of Hoosiers will not participate in the political process if they feel their votes do not matter and their voices are not being heard,” Durai said. “And if the next generation of Hoosiers do not participate in the political process, then our state does not have a future.”

Sen. John Crane, R-Martinsville, acknowledged some of the frustrations, particularly in late-arriving 2020 population numbers from the U.S. Census, now expected Aug. 12.

But he said the silver lining was that the General Assembly, set to meet in mid-September once initial maps are ready, will be able to give the project full attention, compared to years when redistricting is crammed in with budget matters and other issues during a normal session.

“It’s an imperfect process – it’s a very complicated process, as you know,” Crane, assistant majority caucus chair for the Senate Republicans, said. “At the end of the day, I’m not quite sure that anybody is going to be happy with the outcome. But certainly, there’ll be an effort to do the best we can.”

The state and federal requirements for districts are that all parts of a district be contiguous, be nearly equal in population and meet standards in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. How lawmakers get there is the story.

This report from contributing writer Dave Bangert is also published in his Substack newsletter, Based in Lafayette, Indiana.