Indiana Republicans eye quick approval of new election maps

August 11, 2021 GMT
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People listen to speakers during the Redistricting Reform Rally Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (Kelly Wilkinson /The Indianapolis Star via AP)
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People listen to speakers during the Redistricting Reform Rally Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021 at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (Kelly Wilkinson /The Indianapolis Star via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The couple hundred people who filled the Indiana House chamber applauded loudly several times Wednesday as members of the public told state lawmakers that they wanted the once-a-decade process of drawing new congressional and legislative election districts slowed down.

Those testifying during the last of nine scheduled redistricting hearings around the state argued the public should have at least a couple weeks to review the proposed maps after they are unveiled sometime next month by Republicans who dominate the state Legislature. Republicans, however, said they planned to quickly advance the new maps to final votes once they are drawn following months of waiting for delayed U.S. Census data on population shifts.

Several voting-rights activists called on Republicans to allow more public input on the new districts, with several arguing that previous partisan gerrymandering has helped the GOP gain more seats in the Legislature and Indiana’s congressional delegation than merited by its vote totals across the state.

Marilyn Moran-Townsend of Fort Wayne, a Republican member of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission organized by Common Cause and other groups, told legislators that making the redistricting process more open to the public would help lessen distrust in government.

“We understand from our voters that they believe that unfair maps by either party leads to less representative government, it leads to more abuses in government, it leads to more extreme government, and it leads to less responsive government,” said Moran-Townsend, a past chairwoman of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Members of the House and Senate election committees heard from more than 40 people during Wednesday’s 2-1/2 hour meeting, which followed similar testimony during eight hearings held across the state Friday and Saturday.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Republican House Election Committee Chairman Tim Wesco of Osceola said no hearings on the proposed maps were planned outside the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

Republican leaders plan to have House and Senate members return to Indianapolis in late September, with the first committee hearing on the new maps possibly within a few days of their release to the public.

The redistricting work would normally have been finished in April without census delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wesco said further delays in approving new districts could cause problems for county officials preparing for next year’s elections.

“We have to be very careful about delaying this any longer than it has already been delayed,” Wesco said.

Democrats are bracing for how far Republicans might push to pad their political advantage in the state, where they now hold seven of Indiana’s nine congressional seats and commanding majorities of 71-29 in the state House and 39-11 in the state Senate.

Democrats maintain plenty of time remains for additional public hearings once proposed maps are released as the filing period for the 2022 legislative and congressional elections doesn’t start until January.

Democratic Rep. Cherrish Pryor of Indianapolis called the past week’s hearings “window dressing” unless Republicans prove they’ve taken the public comments seriously.

“One meeting for the House Elections Committee, one meeting for the Senate Elections Committee is not enough,” Pryor said. “This is a redistricting that is going to impact us for the next decade, if not for the next 20 or 30 years. And people want to make sure that they have an opportunity to fully review and analyze the maps.”