The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 08, 2021 1:00 am

Harsh words greet panel on legislative redistricting

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Tammari Ingalls was blunt Saturday when describing what she considers to be Indiana's “ridiculous” voting map.

The Wabash woman compared the oddly shaped districts to pieces of “jigsaw puzzles.”

“It's not up to you to pick the voters,” she said, addressing 11 elected state officials during a public meeting on redistricting at the Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne campus.

Instead, Ingalls said, it's up to voters to choose their representatives.

She was one of about 120 people who braved a stormy Saturday morning to share their views with members of the House and Senate committees that will recommend new voting districts.

The once-in-a-decade process would usually be completed by now, but release of 2020 Census data has been delayed until Thursday. Federal officials blame the coronavirus pandemic for complicating the process of collecting and crunching the numbers.

Population data will be used to draw new maps for Indiana's nine congressional districts, 100 House districts and 50 Senate districts. Republicans, the state's majority party, control the process.

All IN For Democracy, a bipartisan coalition, has pushed for years for an independent commission to draw the maps. Supporters believe the state's current districts are drawn using demographic and political data so that it is virtually impossible for the party out of power to gain a foothold.

At Saturday's public meeting, one of nine being held statewide, 35 people shared questions and concerns. Some speakers described Indiana as a gerrymandered state where district lines are drawn with the goal of keeping incumbent legislators in office.

A May 14 report commissioned by Women4Change found Indiana's 2011 districting plan “had a very large pro-Republican bias,” one that is “extremely large relative to other states.” Women4Change is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that advocates for equality for women and civility in public discourse.

Jama Brown, president of the North Central Indiana chapter of the League of Women Voters, raised her voice when talking to the elected officials in attendance.

“You make it so hard to get people registered” to vote, Brown said. “It is a mission. It is a concerted effort to keep from getting new people registered.”

Brown said Republican leaders fear new voters will be mostly minorities who are more likely to vote for Democrats. In turn, she said, those potential voters fear their voices will be drowned out in predominantly Republican districts.

Derek Camp, chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party, made an offer to committee members.

“Anyone wanting to walk these district lines and see just how screwed up they are is welcome to join me,” he said.

Additional themes emerged during the comments, including a request for more transparency in the process and a call for additional public meetings in each congressional district after proposed district maps have been drawn. No proposals were available Saturday.

Speakers also expressed a desire for districts that keep communities with similar interests intact.

Jessica Farlow, a Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher, said she works in a neighborhood school, which draws children living within a 1-mile radius of the building.

Despite the limited geographic area, the students are divided among five legislative districts, each represented by a different lawmaker, she said.

“Getting them services they need is extremely difficult,” Farlow added. “Just because these little populations don't (make political donations) doesn't mean they don't get a voice.”

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