For the first time since Indianapolis moved to consolidated city-county government in 1970, Democrats will be in the driver’s seat next year as new districts are drawn for City-County Council seats.
State lawmakers already have completed the once-a-decade, highly partisan task of drawing new maps for Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts, based on the 2020 census. Now, Indianapolis and local governments across the state must draw new districts for local offices by November 2022.
Indianapolis’ redistricting has been bitterly contested in recent decades, as Democrats came closer and closer to ending long-time Republican control of the City-County Council.
Outgoing Republicans drew Indianapolis’ current council maps in 2011. Republican Mayor Greg Ballard signed them into law Jan. 1, 2012, the same day the council’s first Democratic majority took office.
Maggie Lewis, then council president, sued. The case went to the Indiana Supreme Court, which sided with Ballard.
Redistricting in the early 2000s didn’t go any smoother. Democrat Mayor Bart Peterson vetoed maps from the Republican majority, which devolved into its own state Supreme Court case. It was also decided in favor of the GOP.
This time around, Democrats will be in control.
Democrats flipped six seats in the 2019 municipal elections, locking in a 20-5 supermajority. And they’ve got a fellow Democrat as mayor.
Council Vice President Zach Adamson, a Democrat, told IBJ that today’s already-steep party imbalance might be as good as it gets for Republicans.
“The maps that we have right now were drawn by the Republicans in order to give them an advantage in the 2015 election. … So, we can’t devise more competitive maps than the ones already designed to give advantage to the minority,” Adamson said.
Council Minority Leader Brian Mowery, a Republican, disputed the gerrymandering accusation, saying, “It’s a little absurd to say that it was drawn in just our favor. Look at the makeup of the body since we’ve through those maps. … These are the same maps we’re on right now, and we’re at a 20-5 deficit.
Adamson said he wants to focus on making districts compact and keeping communities of interest together “so that they can have a councilor who can focus on those interests.”
That means following—where possible—major physical divides, like highways and waterways, plus neighborhood boundaries, Adamson said. Under the current maps, for example, the Fountain Square neighborhood is split between three councilors.
Mowery said he would also like to see compact districts keep communities of interest together. “We want to make sure everybody gets their chance to have input,” he said, “whether that be one of the 25 councilors, or whether it be a constituent.”
To that end, Mowery suggested holding public hearings like those offered during the state redistricting process, giving both caucuses a budget to draw maps and creating a bipartisan commission of lawmakers to work on the redistricting.
Indianapolis has set aside $300,000 for the redistricting process, according to budget slides presented to councilors. They’ll likely kick off the process with a community engagement and civic education campaign.
But nothing is certain. In the wild world of Indianapolis redistricting, most anything can happen amid the partisan jousting. In 2013, the Republican-controlled Legislature stepped in and eliminated four at-large City-County Council seats, all filled by Democrats at the time.
Across the state, early prep work for redistricting at the local level already is happening behind the scenes.
Indiana’s 92 counties get the option to review their voting precinct boundaries. And it’s crunch time. A six-month delay in 2020 Census data meant participating counties had to cram the six-month reprecincting process into about six weeks, according to a memo from the Indiana Election Division.
Proposed reprecincting orders were due to the election division last Friday, and they’ll need to be approved and in place before January 5.
In Indianapolis, which has a consolidated city-county government, the mayor runs reprecincting instead of a county commissioner. Mayor Joe Hogsett‘s office said it brought in law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath to advise the process and help with the GIS mapping software.
The council is light on institutional knowledge—only a few current councilors and nonpartisan council office staff were in their roles during the last round of redistricting.
“We certainly want to rely on whatever institutional knowledge exists, and have that help inform whatever decisions we make,” said Brandon Herget, the council office’s CFO and policy director. “That being said, I think we want to be intentional about doing this process differently than it’s been done before. Institutional knowledge will always play a role, but if we’re going to break the mold, then it will have its limitations.”