INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers from both the Indiana House and Senate support a bipartisan bill that aims to increase public participation in the process of redrawing legislative district boundaries.
Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, authored two bills — one to increase transparency during redistricting and the second to create a commission to oversee the process.
“Legislators should serve in competitive districts,” Ruckelshaus said at a recent press conference announcing the proposed legislation. “I think we’re all better for that. Competition is good.”
Legislative district boundaries for state and federal elective offices are redrawn every 10 years following the census. The next redistricting process will take place next year, after the final population numbers from the 2020 census are released.
Under the current legislative district maps, Republicans hold a supermajority in the House and Senate, with at least two-thirds of the seats, which means that they have a quorum without Democrats.
However, the 2018 Indiana congressional Senate race reflects a more balanced party breakdown with Republican Sen. Mike Braun winning with 51% of the votes, and incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly receiving 45% of the votes.
Democrats and Republicans signed a pledge last week to support transparent, nondiscriminatory and politically impartial redistricting. Those at the media event included Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, Sen. Mike Bohachek, R-Michiana Shores, Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, and Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster.
Ruckelshaus and other speakers said transparency during redistricting is an important part of the process.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for democracy, said the organization wants to see more public input during redistricting.
She said the bill will allow citizens to access census data and try their hand at drawing their own maps of legislative districts in Indiana.
“While we certainly believe that redistricting reform is a two-part question, both who draws the maps and how those maps are drawn needs to be addressed, transparency and public participation should not be a tough sell,” Vaughn said.
Ruckelshaus said if the bill passes, they would plan to partner with a public college to make mapping software more available to citizens.
This is the third session that Ruckelshaus has authored and introduced the redistricting commission bill. He said he is less optimistic about that bill’s passage than the transparency bill.
Debbie Asberry, membership chair for the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis, said voters are beginning to understand the impact of redistricting.
“If the party in power is going to have the authority to draw the maps,” she said, “then the party in power needs to promise the voters that it will be transparent and it will engage them because it is the voters who will live with the consequences of those maps for the next decade.”