The Census Bureau on Thursday will publish the data that states will use to draw maps of the Statehouse and Congressional districts, following delays caused by COVID-19.
Indiana is not winning or losing any seats in Congress, but state legislative leaders will have to rewrite the maps to ensure that all political districts contain roughly the same number of people after population changes.
What those maps look like matters: in which constituencies Hoosiers are located may affect the chance a Republican or Democrat is likely to represent them in Congress and the Statehouse, and how influential each party is over the next 10 years.
They will not be republished again until the 2030 Census.
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Redistribution of issues. Shortly after the last cycle of redistribution, Republicans won a large majority in the House and have held it in both houses ever since.
Here’s how the process will unfold in Indiana.
Who will draw the maps?
The General Assembly has the task of approving new districts. Because Republicans have a majority in both chambers, Republican leaders will control the process.
This includes Pro-Tempore Senate President Rodric Bray, House Speaker Todd Huston, House and Division Election Committee Chairman Tim Wesco, and Senate Election Commission Chairman Senator Jon Ford.
How will lawmakers create the maps?
Lawmakers have received public evidence on what Hoosiers want to see on the new maps while awaiting the release of census data, but they do not have to follow that advice.
The General Assembly is likely to return to presenting the proposed maps in mid-September. Those maps will be contained in legislation and will go through the standard legislative process, which means there will be more opportunities for public comment in the Statehouse. After both chambers vote in favor of the new maps, Gov. Eric Holcomb is confident he will sign the legislation.
Citizens probably do not have much time to look at maps and provide information before they are approved, a concern of some activist groups and those who witnessed the public redistribution of hearings across the state. There are also no plans for more hearings outside of Indianapolis, making it more challenging for those living on the corners of the state to comment.
Did lawmakers hire anyone to help?
Neither the House Chamber nor the Republican Senate group has signed any agreement with any consultant to assist in drafting legislative maps or securing data. However, House Republicans have hired prominent DC attorney Jason Torchinsky and his law firm Hotlzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC “to provide legal advice on redistribution and election issues.”
Torchinsky is general counsel for the National Republican Editing Trust and has defended other Republican maps in court. The letter of commitment received from IndyStar indicates that the law firm could represent Huston if these new maps are challenged in court.
“Federal law is extremely complex,” Wesco told reporters Wednesday, “and we need to be very careful about how we go about that process and make sure we do it right and do it legally and follow the law.”
As of Tuesday, the state had paid the firm more than $ 2,700 from a set of state money reserved for cost redistribution.
Democrats such as the rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington and activists criticized the decision to hire an outside lawyer.
“Hiring Torchinsky to be the House Republican’s redistribution consultant shows that this will be a major scrutiny process,” Pierce told reporters Wednesday. “That consultant is a kind of base between the National Republicans’ efforts to maximize this process for their party, and so I think that shows us the direction we’re going in.”
What is gerrymandering and does Indiana do it?
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing constituency lines to favor one party or political group over another.
The current state and maps of the Indiana Congress significantly favor Republicans, according to a recent study commissioned by the activist group Women4Change and completed by Christopher Warshaw, a professor of political science at George Washington University.
Warshaw came to that conclusion by looking at the number of votes lost – or the number of votes over what is needed to win – in Democratic districts as opposed to those in Republican districts.
During the 2012 House race immediately after the redistribution, for example, the efficiency gap – or the difference between lost Republican and Democratic votes – was more extreme than 95% of other nationwide and Indiana state elections over the past five decades .
Likewise, the results of the 2014 state Senate elections, when the 2011 plan went into full effect, had a higher efficiency gap than 96% of other state Senate elections. A similar gap exists on the side of Congress.
Warshaw concluded that the inequality was not solely due to Indiana’s natural geographical composition.
Wesco argued that the maps Indiana currently uses are more straightforward than those used in the early 2000s when Democrats controlled the House.
What activists and Democrats want to happen
For years, Democrats and activists have pushed for an independent redistribution commission to draw Indiana maps. Their argument is that only an independent group can do this without party influence.
But Republicans have long since stalled any legislation that would make that difference.
Now activists – such as the Common Cause and All IN for Democracy – and Democrats are demanding a more transparent process for analyzing proposed maps and public comment after the proposed maps come out.
What we are looking for
Here’s what IndyStar will be looking for when new maps come out:
- Will the new maps help Republicans maintain their majority or even expand them?
- Will communities be divided?
- How will the power dynamics change between rural and urban interests, due to the expected population growth in cities?
- What will lawmakers do for the 5th Circuit of Congress? Each district election cycle has shifted more to the left. In 2020 Republican Victoria Spartz defeated only her Democratic opponent Christina Hale by approximately 4 percentage points.
- Will legislative leaders try to pull their party members out of their districts? It has happened before. In 2011 Congressman Todd Rokita was left out of the boundaries of the 4th Circuit of Congress. The leadership has consistently banged its head on Socially Conservative Republican John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, so he is an area to be seen. He was accused of making anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim remarks before being elected.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow him on Twitter: @kaitlin_langewith