Hoosiers hopeful U.S. Supreme Court case will spur Indiana redistricting reforms

Julia Vaughn, policy director at Common Cause Indiana, with microphone at right, rallies supporters of legislative redistricting reform outside the federal courthouse Oct. 3, 2017 in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers seemingly are not prepared to hand over control of the once-a-decade redistricting process to an independent commission.

But the Indiana Senate has agreed that the General Assembly's redrawing of legislative district boundaries, following the 2020 U.S. Census, should generally follow the same standards that a commission likely would use in making new maps.

Senate Bill 326, which passed the chamber 42-6, sets specific requirements for how lawmakers in 2021 must create the state's nine congressional districts, 50 Senate districts and 100 House districts.

They include nearly equal population, contiguous territory that is as compact as possible under the Voting Rights Act, no crossing of precinct boundaries, avoiding splitting up municipalities or other communities of interest where practical, and not considering the location of the current officeholder's residence.

"This bill is an effective first step in our redistricting efforts," said state Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, the sponsor. "Redistricting is a complex issue, and this bill would get the ball rolling on how we draw our maps in the future."

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At the same time, the measure permits the General Assembly to ignore the redistricting guidelines, so long as the reasons for each deviation "are publicly explained and documented."

Walker said even though that could enable lawmakers to still draw districts however they wish, by having to "show their work" his legislation provides "more transparency and clear standards for how districts should be drawn."

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, who voted for the measure that now goes to the House, said it's still not true redistricting reform and leaves the door open for a gerrymander favoring one political party over another.

"You don't get reform until you take the politicians out of the process of drawing their own lines," Lanane said.

State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, had a plan to do just that. His Senate Bill 159, which would have removed elected officials from redistricting decisions, did not advance out of the Senate Committee on Elections.

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Financial Affairs Reporter

Dan has reported on Indiana state government for The Times since 2009. He also covers casinos, campaigns and corruption.