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With bipartisan support and in front of a small audience, council committee approves redistricting plan

The following report from Indianapolis Recorder writer Tyler Fenwick was first published in the Recorder, and is shared through The Indiana Citizen redistricting reporting project.

If this was supposed to be the redistricting grand finale, the fireworks stand tipped over and the few people who cared to watch the show went home disappointed.

An Indianapolis City-County Council committee hosted a public hearing April 12 on a proposed district map that will shape local elections for the next decade. About 10 people attended, and most were affiliated with a reform group that attends virtually any meeting dealing with redistricting.

The Rules and Public Policy Committee hearing was advertised as the community’s chance to weigh in on a map created by the council’s Democratic supermajority. The council sponsored forums in January and February to get input on what people wanted to see in the new map, but it’s likely April 12 was the public’s lone opportunity to comment on a map.

The redistricting proposal passed out of committee with a vote of 8-2. It will go back to the full council for a vote.

‘I don’t believe six months is enough’

One of the most common complaints, both during forums and at the hearing, was redistricting feels rushed with not enough time to give feedback on the proposed map. Redistricting doesn’t have to be completed until late this year.

Redistricting follows the once-per-decade census, and even then, local government has to determine precinct boundaries before the process of drawing new districts begins. That means even though the most recent census happened two years ago, the council and its consultants didn’t start the redistricting exercise until late last year.

“I don’t believe six months is enough when it has to be on the books for 10 years,” said Terry Evans, a Lawrence Township resident and father of councilor Ethan Evans, a former Democrat who recently became an independent.

More redistricting: Can a commission lead redistricting in Indianapolis? Depends who you ask

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said there can be no “perfect” map because redistricting is about competing priorities. Redistricting is largely partisan — in the favor of Democrats locally and Republicans at the state level.

“We need new district maps that focus on ensuring that everyone in our increasingly diverse community has an equal say in our elections,” she said.

The organization advocates for a citizens group to lead redistricting and created the Indianapolis Citizens Redistricting Commission to develop an alternative map, which it gave to councilors.

Council President Vop Osili, who chairs the Rules and Public Policy Committee, has maintained redistricting is the council’s responsibility.

“This process was as transparent and fair as we could possibly have made it,” he said.

How is the proposed map different from the current map?

The proposed map looks more favorable for Republicans, who are currently outnumbered on the council 20-5. Four of the five red districts touch the county’s southern border, and the proposed map would add a fifth district to the south, a reflection of population growth in the 2020 census.

An analysis from PlanScore shows the proposed map would produce five safely Republican districts, along with two more that lean Republican. Most of the rest of the county would be considered safely Democratic.

The analysis was conducted by Common Cause Indiana.

Republicans have been critical of the process and still called for more time to review and comment on the map, but two of three Republican members on the committee voted to advance the proposal. Republican councilor Michael-Paul Hart voted no but said he was voting against the process, not the map.

The proposed map would put two Democrats, Keith Potts and Monroe Gray, in the same district. Potts is in his first term on the council; Gray has been on the council since 1992.

Gray is on the committee and was the lone Democrat to vote against the proposal. He has said he feels targeted for not always being in line with the party.

Two other Democrats, Jason Larrison and David Ray, would also get lumped into the same district on the east side. Larrison joined the council in 2020 when party officials voted for him to fill an empty seat; Ray has been on the council since 2015.

In both cases, the district still likely belongs to a Democrat going forward. The question is who runs and ultimately wins the seats.

What’s next?

It is unlikely the map will change at this point.

“I would be mindful of the difficulty of making changes,” Brandon Herget, policy director for the council, said at the hearing. He added the proposed map is “legally defensible.”

Council districts have to be as close to equal in population as possible. The task is made more difficult by the fact that precincts, which act as building blocks for districts, are determined only by active voters instead of population.

The redistricting proposal now goes back to the full council for a vote. The council’s next meeting is May 2.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.