Critics look to pressure GOP over Indiana redistricting

A coalition of activist groups announced a new push Monday against what it called partisan gerrymandering by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature.

Coalition leaders said they would form a citizens commission that will hold virtual town hall meetings in January and February and propose new voting districts to the General Assembly before lawmakers approve new congressional and legislative district maps next year using 2020 census information.

Those advocating for a revamp of Indiana’s redistricting procedures have failed over several years to find support among Republicans whose full-supermajority command of the Indiana Legislature came about after they gained total control over redrawing those maps 10 years ago.

The coalition of some 25 groups, including Common Cause Indiana, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, said they hoped public pressure would force Republicans not to draw new voting districts behind closed doors.

“The General Assembly won’t do it— we understand the motivations why they won’t do it,” said Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana’s policy director. “So we’re creating this parallel, this shadow, process that will demonstrate to Hoosiers and the Legislature alike that there is a way to do this in the public interest, out in the open so that everybody can see.”

Indiana has not followed other states creating independent commissions or other steps aimed at combating partisan gerrymandering, which occurs when politicians draw voting districts to give themselves or their political parties an advantage in future elections.

Critics maintain that has helped Indiana Republicans gain outsized power in the Legislature— where they now hold a 39-11 Senate majority and a 71-29 House command. Republicans have also locked in a 7-2 majority of Indiana’s congressional seats since the 2012 election with the GOP-drawn maps.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray have both said the Legislature will hold public hearings around the state ahead of redistricting decisions but have shown no signs of backing changes in the map-drawing process. Huston said lawmakers will have “a very open process to the public”

“The only thing I will note about gerrymandering is that it is in the eyes of the beholder,” Huston said. “I’m hopeful when we’re done people can say those maps make sense.”

A member of the All IN for Democracy coalition said gerrymandering has allowed the Legislature to take steps such as approving an electric utility-backed bill to eliminate much of the financial incentive available to Indiana residents and businesses who install solar panels.

“When one party can do anything it wants without input from the other, the special interests can zero in on that party in charge and get almost anything they want on a routine basis,” said Bryce Gustafson, program organizer for the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.