Indiana lawmakers are preparing to embark on the decennial task of redistricting—an incredibly important and often overly political process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts to account for changes in the population.
Typically, redistricting takes place in the spring, after the U.S. Census Bureau completes its once-a-decade count of every person in the country. But work on the census was delayed last year, so the numbers weren’t ready when the Indiana General Assembly convened this year.
As a result, lawmakers recessed their session rather than adjourning it in April so they could reconvene this fall to approve maps.
The process will start with public hearings in eight cities around the state Aug. 6-7 and at the Statehouse on Aug. 11. Those who attend the hearings can comment on the redistricting process and make suggestions for changes, but they won’t have any proposed maps to consider or critique. That’s because lawmakers won’t actually have the data to start drawing maps until the Census Bureau releases it Aug. 16.
Legislative leaders haven’t released any additional details about the mapping process, including what opportunities—and how much time—the public might have to comment on the maps once they’re actually drawn and put into bill form to be considered for votes by the House and Senate.
That’s unfortunate. Unlike many states, Indiana has few requirements for their districts. The Indiana Constitution requires that districts be contiguous, meaning all parts of the district must be physically adjacent.
Other states require that districts be compact, keep communities of interest together and preserve political subdivisions, which essentially means legislative and congressional district lines try to follow boundaries for cities, counties, townships, etc.
We think those are excellent goals. Although they are not in state law, we urge lawmakers to incorporate those guidelines into their mapping efforts—and we think they will do so.
Some states also require that lawmakers seek to make districts as politically competitive as possible, prohibit mapmakers from using voting information in the process and ban lawmakers from using the mapping process for political gain.
These goals are far more complicated. After all, you can’t make districts competitive if you can’t consider voting data or political information. And when communities of interest are kept together, the result is often that districts are less competitive.
But we urge majority Republicans to refrain from using redistricting to make political gains, to punish lawmakers (of either party) with whom they might not agree, or to dilute the influence of underserved people.
The key is transparency in the process. The public should have plenty of opportunity to see and comment on proposed maps. Legislative leaders should be forthright in their explanations about why lines are moving. And they should make the data that underlies inevitable shifts in the maps easy for the public to obtain and understand.
Most of all, they should keep the good of communities and constituents in mind as they draw maps that will determine who represents them. Politics should take a back seat to good government.•
To comment, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.