Hoosiers gave an earful of gripes about Indiana's redistricting plans and process to the Senate Elections Committee Monday.
For more than two hours, citizens from across the state, including Northwest Indiana, criticized the Republican-led panel for crafting new legislative district boundaries that are all but certain to maintain Republican dominance of state government for another 10 years.
The complaints included very specific beefs with how certain districts were drawn, particularly the division of the Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and the Lafayette metropolitan areas to combine small parts of each city with large rural areas, rather than keeping more of each city together as individual Indiana House or Senate districts.
At the same time, most people testifying against House Bill 1581 in the marble-walled Senate chamber took issue with the new maps being drawn only by Republicans, behind closed doors, with limited input from Hoosier voters, and hardly any time for Hoosiers to really understand the redistricting plans.
"Instead of inspiring public trust, the Legislature's redistricting process undermines it," said Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana policy director.
Numerous Hoosiers urged the panel to slow down, take the proposed maps to public hearings across the state, and spend time considering other redistricting options, such as the maps devised through the nonpartisan Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission.
In response, state Sen. John Crane, R-Avon, pointed out redistricting this year already is getting much more public attention than usual because COVID-19 data delays at the U.S. Census Bureau prevented the new maps from being approved alongside the state budget and myriad other proposed new laws during the regular legislative session that ended in April.
Nevertheless, Christopher Harris, a commission member from Hammond, insisted the maps created by Hoosiers and submitted to the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission better reflect Indiana's electorate and would generate higher voter turnout through more competitive elections.
"Hoosiers want honest-to-goodness fair maps," Harris said. "We can achieve greater equity than the maps generated by the legislative majority."
Ami Gandhi, senior counsel for the Chicago Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, also suggested the proposed maps, particularly for the Indiana Senate, may run afoul of federal voting rights laws, and without changes could end up being the subject of a lawsuit.
Even Gary schools activists Robert Buggs and Talethia Barrett were on hand to condemn the redistricting process, which they alleged is preventing Steel City residents from reclaiming control of the Gary Community School Corp. that was taken over by the state in 2017 to prevent it from becoming insolvent following years of financial mismanagement.
"You know that this is not right," Buggs proclaimed.
Barrett, meanwhile, followed her complaints about the school district's emergency manager with a five-minute reading of various Psalms that the committee chairman, state Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, inexplicably allowed to proceed without interruption.
In the end, it's unlikely any of the citizen objections will lead to changes in the redistricting plans for Indiana's nine U.S. House seats, 100 Indiana House seats, and 50 Senate seats that will take effect for the 2022 elections because shifting even one precinct to another district can have a ripple effect on districts across the state.
Moreover, the Republican-controlled House last week already approved the redistricting plan, 67-31, on a nearly party-line vote, and the Senate Elections Committee is due Tuesday to advance the measure to the full, Republican-controlled Senate.
The Senate then is scheduled to vote Friday to send the maps to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for final enactment.
By law, new legislative districts must be drawn every 10 years following the census to adjust for population shifts and ensure every district in the state contains approximately the same number of people.