INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Critics on Monday assailed the proposed new Indiana congressional and legislative districts as rigged in favor of Republicans, alleging they dilute the influence of minority voters.
More than 20 people spoke against the Republican-drawn redistricting plan and none in support of it during a state Senate elections committee hearing. It was likely the final public testimony before the GOP-dominated Legislature votes later this week to approve the maps lasting through the 2030 elections.
Republicans said the redistricting plan was aimed at drawing compact districts that didn’t unnecessarily divide cities and counties between districts.
But numerous people faulted the maps for splitting the city of Fort Wayne up among four Republican-leaning state Senate districts, three of which include substantial rural areas. Critics also argued that the city of Evansville and the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette were divided between Republican Senate districts while their populations were enough for them to have districts of their own that would be competitive between Republicans and Democrats.
The Indiana NAACP and other civil rights groups argued that Fort Wayne’s large Black and Latino communities were being fragmented into districts that will have rural white voters making up the majority.
Last year’s census showed Indiana’s population becoming more racially diverse as the share of the white population fell from 81.5% in 2010 to 75.5% in 2020. The Black population’s share grew from 9.0% in 2010 to 9.4% in 2020, while the Hispanic grew from 6.0% to 8.2% over the decade.
“Maybe some are purposefully ignoring that change, but in accordance with federal law electoral maps must shift with the changing demographics,” said Ami Gandhi, senior counsel with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The state of Indiana must do better to protect voting rights of people of color.”
Civil rights groups are still reviewing the congressional and legislative redistricting plans since they have only been released in the past two weeks, Gandhi said.
Republican Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford, sponsor of the redistricting bill, said that the plan complied with all federal and state law and that while GOP mapmakers sought to keep “communities of interest” together there was no legal requirement to do so.
Political analysts say the new maps protect Republicans’ dominance that has given them a 7-2 majority of Indiana’s U.S. House seats and commanding majorities in the state Legislature, exceeding their typical 56% of the statewide vote.
Republicans have used the full legislative supermajorities they’ve held since the 2012 elections to advance issues such as expanded state funding of vouchers for students attending private schools, cutting corporate tax rates, toughening anti-abortion laws and approving a contentious religious objections law in 2015.
Chris Paulsen, a board member of the voting-rights group Women4Change Indiana, said she didn’t believe the state was helped by a redistricting plan that largely protects the 39-11 Republican control of the state Senate and 71-29 Indiana House majority.
“These maps ignore the vote and voices of thousands of Hoosiers,” Paulsen said. “The proposed maps will leave people feeling that their voice doesn’t matter, that our system doesn’t support everyone.”
Several people criticized Republicans over plans for the Senate elections committee to endorse the new election districts on Tuesday and for final votes in the Legislature to take place Friday — making Indiana one of the first states to complete redistricting work.
Sonia Leerkamp, chair of the unofficial Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission organized by voting rights groups, said a common complaint the panel heard from voters was a lack of competitive election races because most districts are so heavily weighted in favor of one party.
“People realized that this was leading to voter apathy and people leaving Indiana because their ideas were not receiving a fair hearing,” said Leerkamp, a former Republican Hamilton County prosecutor.