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Friday, December 2, 2022

‘Voters lose faith in the process’: Hoosiers express concern about redistricting maps

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Few Hoosiers were happy about redistricting maps proposed by the Republican supermajority of the Indiana House of Representatives earlier this week. 

After the Republican supermajority of the Indiana House of Representatives released their proposed maps Sept. 14, Indiana voters had two days to analyze the maps and provide public comment during committee meetings Sept. 15 and 16. 

Among the common concerns: a lack of time for voters to look over the maps before the General Assembly vote Sept. 20. The maps, redrawn once a decade, determine what congressional districts citizens vote in.

“I have a life,” Peg Maginn of Fort Wayne said in an interview after addressing the committee. “I’m president of my neighborhood association and we had a board meeting. I had a friend visit from out of town. I didn’t have time to go over the maps in less than 48 hours.”

Maginn addressed the committee because it has a “history” of not giving Hoosiers a voice. In her comments, she cited public hearings in 2016 and 2018, when voters expressed the need for more transparency in how districts are divided. In 2016, a bill on redistricting guidelines was killed before representatives could vote on it. In 2018, a bill made it out of the Senate before being killed in the House. Migenn said these practices make voters lose faith in the process.

‘Young people don’t feel that their voices count’

Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance, requested more time be given for voters to analyze the data and the maps before giving public comment and also requested the General Assembly delay their vote. By not having a chance to understand the maps and share their thoughts, Stant said it causes people to not vote. 

In 2020, 65% of eligible Hoosier voters cast a ballot in the general election, trailing the national average of 67%. Indiana ranks 42nd in the nation for voter turnout.

“We have a low voter turnout in Indiana,” Stant said. “When Hoosiers become cynical of the democratic process, when they feel their votes don’t matter, they don’t vote. … Indiana can only become a more inclusive democracy by doing this.”

Fatima Yakuba-Madus of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis said she’s concerned that a lack of transparency will keep people from taking part in the process.

“I’m concerned that all of God’s children are not being invited to the table to be heard,” Yakuba-Madus said. “Young people feel that their voices don’t count. What can we say to [representatives] to get you to listen to what people are saying?”

Leigh Morris, a Republican from La Porte and a member of Common Cause Indiana’s redistricting commission, said the organization allowed voters in each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts to create their own maps. 

Participants were instructed to create their maps while taking factors such as equal population size, keeping “communities of interest” (communities of similar ethnic and economic backgrounds) together and respecting the Voting Rights Act. Morris suggested the redistricting committee examine the maps voters created before passing the proposed maps to make sure they are fair and representative of what voters want. 

The 5th District

Concerns regarding Indiana’s 5th Congressional District were brought up numerous times.

In 2020, Victoria Spartz, a Trump-backed Republican, won the district over Democrat Christina Hale by a margin of 5%. The district, which includes portions of Marion, Carmel, Anderson and Noblesville, was up for grabs after Republican Susan Brooks announced her retirement in 2019.

Destiny Scott-Wells, an attorney in Indianapolis, said the 5th district has been bleached — meaning voters of color in the district will now vote in the 7th district, to “dilute their voices” and therefore making it easier for Spartz to be reelected. 

“This is extreme partisan gerrymandering,” Scott-Wells said. 

Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, said some elements of the maps are beneficial, such as Fort Wayne no longer being divided into two districts. However, she said the maps aren’t good enough, specifically when it comes to keeping communities of interest intact.

“Communities of color deserve districts that empower them,” Vaughn said. “These maps don’t hit the mark.”

A study conducted by Chris Warshaw of George Washington University found Indiana to be more gerrymandered than 95% of the nation. With the proposed maps, Democrats would only control 31% of the state senate, despite roughly 44% of Hoosiers voting for the Democratic Party. 

After public comments, state Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, admonished the Republican supermajority for how they handled the redistricting process. Pierce noted, with the proposed maps, Republicans could represent 69 of the 100 Hoosier representatives despite only getting 56% of the vote. 

“There was once a time where 53 [out of 100] was considered a supermajority,” Pierce said. “There’s been a rewriting of the norms of politics, and now there’s no way for the public to impact this process. … In a few weeks the majority will have sealed in complete dominance for another decade.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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