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Due to lack of applicants, Bloomington scales back its independent redistricting commission from 9 members to 5

Bloomington, Ind. — The Bloomington City Council has scaled back its plan for an independent citizen redistricting commission, reducing the panel from a proposed nine members to five.

The change should make it possible for the commission to be appointed and begin meeting this month, said Councilmember Steve Volan (above), the primary advocate for citizen-led redistricting in the city.

“Here’s to a meeting by the first of March,” he said. “I’m really eager to see them start work.”

The panel, called the Citizens Redistricting Advisory Commission, will have until late this year to redraw the six city council election districts to reflect changes in the 2020 census.

Volan said his original plan for a nine-member commission, modeled on the All IN for Democracy proposal for state-level redistricting, was probably overly ambitious. While city officials have promoted the panel for months, only about 12 people have applied, he said.

“For a state with nearly seven million residents, nine seemed like a reasonable number,” he said. “But for an 85-90,000 population city, I think five members will be plenty.”

Under the revised proposal, approved unanimously by the council Wednesday, two members will be Republicans, two will be Democrats and one will be affiliated with neither major party. One Democrat and one Republican must be full-time Indiana University students.

All nine city councilmembers in Bloomington are Democrats.

State law requires local elected officials to approve updated election districts after each 10-year census, but there’s nothing to prevent them from doing what Bloomington is doing: turning redistricting over to an independent commission, then having elected officials approve the maps.

Monroe County, where Bloomington is located, had a bipartisan four-member committee draw county council election districts. County commissioners approved those maps in December 2021.

In Indianapolis, redistricting reform advocates are pressing the city-county council to create an independent commission and to provide mapping software so citizens can design their own maps. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled council have so far not agreed to the commission idea.

Public engagement hearings on redistricting are underway in Marion County’s nine townships. — Steve Hinnefeld