In its first public hearing on how best to redraw congressional and legislative district lines, the newly formed Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission heard Wednesday evening from a succession of Marion County residents who, in the words of one, “want to vote with people of my community, not people who live an hour away from me.”

The commission, a nine-member “multipartisan” citizens group formed to advise and offer an alternative to the upcoming redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines by the Indiana General Assembly, plans a series of eight additional public hearings, all held virtually due to public health concerns and organized by congressional district. Wednesday’s hearing centered on Indiana’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Marion County.

It is a county that offers some of Indiana’s best examples of how legislative districts can be drawn to separate rather than unite “communities of interest,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana and a leader of the All IN for Democracy coalition formed to promote an independent redistricting process. She displayed a map of Senate District 28, a largely squared-off expanse of rural Hancock and Shelby counties to the east and south of Indianapolis, but with a conspicuous “appendage” across the county line into the densely populated neighborhoods of Warren Township in Marion County.

Vaughn then displayed two photographs to illustrate the disparate communities drawn into the District 28 — one of a Warren Central High School classroom with predominantly Black students, the other of students at Shelby County’s Morristown High School who are predominantly white.

Theresa Bruno, a Warren Township resident who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent District 28 Sen. Michael Crider in 2020, said the representation of the Indianapolis Eastside has suffered because of the way the district lines are currently drawn.

“I think Warren Township should have its own Senate district,” she testified in the public hearing. “We have, on the Eastside, similar interests.”

Testimony also came from Michelle Maloney-Mangold, who said her residence is in the small strip of northern Marion County drawn into the 5th Congressional District, which extends north through Hamilton County all the way to Kokomo and Marion.

“I want to vote with people of my community,” Maloney-Mangold testified, “not people who live an hour away from me.”

Another participant said they had little hope that a Republican-controlled legislature that drew the existing district lines in 2011 would take a different approach to redistricting in 2021.

In replying, Vaughn said gerrymandering — the manipulation of district lines to benefit one political party over another — is not the sole province of Republicans.

“Democrats have gerrymandered as well,” she said, offering the 2011 redistricting process in Democratic-controlled Maryland as an example. “It’s about who’s in power.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Vaughn fielded a question from another participant who asked if other states had succeeded in reforming redistricting and how they had done it.

“The cold hard fact is that the states that have been successful haven’t done it through legislation,” Vaughn replied. “They’ve done it through ballot initiative. It’s a tough row to hoe when your only route to reform is through the legislature.”

The commission’s next virtual public hearing, centering on the 5th Congressional District in north central Indiana, will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 3. — The Indiana Citizen

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