(INDIANAPOLIS) – A Senate committee will vote Tuesday on proposed new legislative maps, a day after a final public hearing on the plan.
The two-and-a-half hour session was the 12th hearing on redistricting, but the only one to be held after the release of new state Senate districts last week. Critics of both the maps and the process dominated the witness list, and called for a delay of as long as a month in Friday’s scheduled vote in the full Senate. They argue even the proposed congressional and Indiana House districts haven’t been out long enough for the public to review them adequately.
Even with just six days to analyze the Senate maps, there were plenty of criticisms of the new lines. House Democrats argued last week the goal of the maps shouldn’t be so-called “communities of interest,” but more competitive districts. Critics of the Senate maps contend both are important, and that the Senate districts don’t achieve either one. Several witnesses zeroed in on Fort Wayne, whose population requires at least three Senate districts. The proposed new map replaces the western portion of Markle Republican Travis Holdman’s district with a slice of Fort Wayne, giving the city a fourth Senate district extending into four more rural counties.
Critics also questioned the maps for Tippecanoe County, where a new district line following the Wabash River cleaves Lafayette and West Lafayette into separate districts; Greenfield Republican Mike Crider’s district, where a “finger” jutting into Indianapolis has shrunk from the current map but is still there; and Anderson, now separated from Muncie in neighboring Delaware County.
Bedford Senator Eric Koch (R), who led the drawing of the new districts, says mapmakers addressed concerns raised at hearings about divided cities on the current map, placing all but one South Bend township in a single district and reunifying Greencastle. The maps also reunite Madison, Delaware, Bartholomew, Jackson and Clinton Counties within single districts — those five counties contain parts of 12 districts on the current map.
In all, Koch says 65 counties are now within a single Senate district, up from 49 on the current map. Another 12 are too large to fit in a single district. Koch says 92-percent of cities and towns are held together in single districts.
Ami Gandhi, the Bloomington-based senior counsel to the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is issuing the first public warning the maps could face a legal challenge under the Voting Rights Act. She charges the new districts illegally “crack” minority populations, diluting the power of minority votes.
IUPUI student and Democratic activist Nick Roberts calculates the revised maps start out with the same 39-11 Republican advantage as the current Senate, based on 2020 presidential results, but with just three districts decided by fewer than 12 points, locking in Republicans’ supermajority unless there’s a dramatic shift in voter preferences. In the last elections on the current map, seven seats were decided by less than 12 points, though five of those were in the eight-to-11-point range.
Koch says even if one made competitive districts a goal, the concentration of Democratic voters in a few urban and collegiate areas would make it difficult. He compares it to trying to draw a Republican city council district in deep-blue Bloomington. In the city’s 2019 election, only one Republican even attempted to win a city council seat, and lost by 26 points.
The House has already approved the maps, but will reconvene Friday if senators make any changes, either at Tuesday’s committee hearing or in the full Senate on Thursday.
Republicans have controlled the Senate since 1978, and have held a supermajority since 2010, the year before the current maps were adopted.
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