INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Voting rights activists on Wednesday urged Indiana legislative leaders to give the public at least a month to review proposed new congressional and state election district maps before they are finalized.
Members of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission organized by Common Cause and other groups released a report calling for greater public involvement in the once-a-decade redrawing of election maps based on population shifts.
The Republican-dominated Legislature plans a fall return to the Statehouse for votes on the new maps. The process will be delayed because the U.S. Census Bureau won’t release data for congressional and legislative redistricting until perhaps September due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Common Cause Indiana policy director Julia Vaughn said the Legislature should use the coming months to hold hearings around the state for public comment.
“Once you have proposals available, slow the process down,” Vaughn said. “Give people at least 30 days to understand and give feedback on what the Legislature has proposed.”
Democrats and voting-rights advocates had pushed over several years for the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the map drawing, arguing that partisan gerrymandering has helped Indiana Republicans to gain outsized power in the Legislature. But Republicans have rejected giving up control of redistricting.
Republican legislative leaders have said public hearings on redistricting will take place but haven’t given details. They didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment left with their offices.
Indiana lawmakers will draw new maps for the state’s nine congressional seats, along with the 100 Indiana House and 50 state Senate districts. Republicans now hold seven of those congressional seats and commanding majorities of 71-29 in the state House and 39-11 in the state Senate.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission, which held virtual public forums for each congressional district, said in its report that those who participated supported Indiana having more competitive election districts and maps that don’t split cities and counties into so many districts.
Commission chairwoman Sonia Leerkamp, a former Republican Hamilton County prosecutor, said redistricting shouldn’t be a political-insiders-only process.
“People are interested in being empowered to participate,” Leerkamp said. “They want transparency, they want their questions answered, and they want to know that they are heard.”