INDIANA, Ind. (WLFI) - Every ten years the Indiana State Legislature redraws the district lines for local and federal elected officials.
Leaders at the statehouse will face that task once again during this legislative session.
This will be an extremely busy year for our elected leaders here at the Indiana Statehouse. They have to pass a new budget, they have the COVID-19 pandemic to respond to, on top of redrawing all of Indiana's districts. This may be the item they address this year with the most long term consequence, because those district lines won't be looked at again until 2031.
"This is something that affects every level of government and it happens after the census," said Andrew Downs, Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue Fort Wayne.
Indiana is one of 34 states where the state legislature has primary control over redrawing district lines. The new districts will be based on 2020's census data. The statehouse deals with re-apportionment. This decides how many of the 435 Congressional Representative seats are allotted to Indiana, which we currently have nine. Downs expects that number to stay the same.
Like in a lot of areas of politics, many people only think of this in terms of what is happening on the national level, but redistricting also hits a lot closer to home.
"We should remember that the state House, the state Senate, your city council, county council, town council all get redrawn," said Downs.
He said during the last redistricting in 2011, the General Assembly made a more concerted effort to make the Congressional districts more compact. They also started looking for more public input. Click here to see maps of the Indiana state Senate and House maps. Photo of maps provided by Andrew Downs.
"That broader input can mean them actually coming to your community," he said. "We'll see what happens because of the pandemic. But I anticipate there will be opportunities for people around the state to have input into what should be happening with district boundaries."
Republican Senator Jon Ford from District 38 chairs the Senate Elections Committee. His group, along with the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, are in charge of getting that feedback and coming up with maps.
It will be debated and voted on by the House and Senate like any regular bill. And with a Republican super majority at the Indiana Statehouse, some may have concern for gerrymandering. This is when boundaries of an elected constituency are manipulated to favor one party or class. Downs said it is illegal to redraw district lines based on race, but in Indiana it is legal to redraw them based on political parties.
"We are going to be having a fair and open process the best that we can," said Sen. Ford. "People should email us or their local legislators if they have questions."
Sen. Ford said they are still trying to work out the logistics of getting public feedback, whether it be via virtual or in-person settings. But he did want to remind people that all committee meetings are public and open for testimony.
Downs said there had been talk in the past about putting the redrawing process into independent hands. Democrat State Representative Sheila Klinker of District 27 agrees.
"It would be great to have a bipartisan commission that brings outside folks in that really look at our districts very carefully and have the League of Women Voters involved," she said.
District 27 was created in the 1981 redistricting year. Klinker won that seat in the 1982 election and has held it ever since. This will be her fourth time going through a redistricting process. Parts of her original district are no longer in her current district, and she now represents parts of Tippecanoe County she hadn't previously. She said she is happy no matter who she represents from her home community.
"It's a win-win for me," she said. "I'm happy to represent whatever district I happen to be in"
She has seen an evenly split state legislature redraw lines and times when Democrats had the majority. Klinker said Democrats and Republicans at the statehouse will continue to work together.
"Because we all know each other personally, we will work together for the state of Indiana," she said.
Given the amount of important issues facing the legislature this year Klinker said she has the sense that redistricting will be a low priority item when compared to topics like health care and education. Even so, the results of the redistricting bill will determine Indiana's path for the next decade.
The General Assembly won't even get the census data needed for redistricting until February or March. However, Sen. Ford said he is confident they will get the redistricting bill passed before the session ends on April 29th. But given the circumstances of this year, Klinker said there is a chance there will be an extended special session to give our legislators more time to address the many issues facing them this year.