INDIANAPOLIS — A nine-member Indiana redistricting commission, instead of the General Assembly, should direct how congressional and legislative district boundaries are drawn.
That’s the recommendation issued Monday by a state study committee that’s spent the past two years reviewing the uses and abuses of legislative redistricting in Indiana, and across the country.
“We are making history today,” said state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. “This is the first time, ever, that we’ve gotten this far with a bipartisan effort to reform the redistricting process.”
Under the plan, the redistricting commission would convene in 2021, following the 2020 U.S. Census, to draw new districts for Indiana’s nine U.S. House seats, 100 Indiana House seats and 50 Senate seats.
Except in limited circumstances, the proposed districts could not be crafted to account for the residences of current officeholders or voter partisanship.
They must also be contiguous, compact, nearly equal in population and avoid breaching precinct or community boundaries.
Four of the redistricting commissioners would be selected by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Indiana House and Senate.
Then, to minimize the influence of party politics, the other five commissioners would be picked from a pool of 12 “independent” candidates endorsed by the chief justice of Indiana or the presidents of Indiana, Purdue and Ball State universities.
Furthermore, seven of the nine commissioners must agree to take official action on any question.
In 2021, the commission would draw new maps, make them available online for Hoosier review and suggested changes, present the maps at public hearings throughout the state and finally submit them to the Legislature for final approval, as required by the Indiana Constitution, with only limited changes permitted.
Former Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm, a member of the study committee, said he believes the reforms could boost Indiana’s dismal voter turnout, improve electoral competitiveness and prevent legislative supermajorities.
It remains to be seen, however, whether state lawmakers will give up their ability to draw their own districts as the recommended plan still requires legislative approval to take effect.
The study committee chairman, state Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, said he will file the proposal in the House when the General Assembly convenes in January. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, is expected to co-sponsor the measure.
But prior proposed changes to the once-a-decade redistricting process regularly have faltered in the Senate, which Republicans have controlled since 1978.
In fact, the three current or former Republican senators on the study committee all voted against the plan, while the other eight committee members supported it.
State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said the proposal does not solve an actual problem, aside from the reformers’ belief that “voters are somehow mindless robots with unshakable party affiliation.”
He argued a good candidate can make any district competitive.