The long-awaited, detailed demographic census data is set to be released Thursday, and in Indiana, good-government groups are urging transparency as state lawmakers draw new voting-district maps for the next decade of elections.
Some states are moving toward independent commissions to draw their voting-district maps, but in Indiana, it’s the Legislature.
Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy for the ACLU of Indiana, said she hopes they take “communities of interest” into account. She said it’s important that people with common values – related to race or ethnicity, a school district, park or community center – can come together to make their views known.
“We want to have multiple opportunities for people from the public – citizens – to come in, and to express what they want to see in their maps and what they have concerns with,” she said. “We want these maps to be drawn fair, and to keep communities of interest together.”
A series of public hearings on redistricting kicked off in Lafayette last week, but attendees voiced some concern about whether lawmakers actually will incorporate the input into the maps.
A coalition of good-government groups is to hold a rally at the Statehouse today, to ask that the process be bipartisan and transparent, and allow adequate time for the public to weigh in.
When redistricting is done properly, Blair said, new district lines should reflect population changes and racial diversity – but too often, people in power use redistricting as a political tool to manipulate election outcomes, or what’s known as gerrymandering. She added that, historically, racial gerrymandering has been a major issue.
“It is used to further marginalize communities of color, by ‘packing’ communities of color into too small of districts,” she said, “or by ‘cracking’ communities of color and spreading them out over many districts, diluting their voting power.”
A recent report from the group “Women 4 Change” found an “extreme Republican bias” in Indiana’s maps compared with other states. In 2012, Republican candidates got slightly more than 54% of the statewide congressional vote, but they won seven of the state’s nine congressional seats. Results of elections since then have been similar.