By the time public comment began at the Statehouse Wednesday on proposed new House legislative boundaries, there wasn't much to say.
After all, the new electoral map was barely a day old. Most of those in line to speak hadn't had time to properly examine – let alone analyze – the redrawn legislative boundaries that likely will determine the outcome of Indiana elections for the next decade.
It makes sense, if you're a Republican. They hold a supermajority in the General Assembly and control the redistricting process. It's in their interest to move quickly through the process and limit naysayers' input.
Democrats have drawn districts to their own advantage when they have held a majority, but the GOP now has tools – and the supermajority – to shape electoral outcomes as political parties never previously could. Republicans are moving full steam ahead with plans to consider, review and adopt the updated legislative lines.
Committees in both chambers are slated to sign off on the House map, congressional boundaries and a yet-to-be-released Senate version by the end of this month.
It's been a consistent pattern for Republican lawmakers, who have resisted calls for more openness, including expanded public hearings. Redistricting leaders held public meetings across the state in August, but there were few specifics to discuss because information such as census data had not been released.
Maps were drawn behind closed doors and released first on the website of the House GOP caucus, while details of the bills to approve them were posted to the General Assembly's website. House Republicans hired a Washington attorney known for defending GOP maps in other states as a consultant.
“Voters want to have more influence in Indiana elections,” Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana told them Thursday. “They don't want mapmakers to have more influence than they do.”
Mapmakers are more powerful, and the deleterious effect that has on the health of democratic systems in which voters place their trust is long-lasting.
Indiana can reliably be called a Republican state, and the argument goes that most of its legislative and congressional seats will be held by Republicans. But gerrymandered electoral maps make the state appear more red than it actually is by restricting competition.
That is perhaps most visible on the proposed congressional map, which shifts all of Marion County from the 5th District. With a portion of the Democratic stronghold included, the district was competitive last year, when Republican U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz narrowly defeated Democrat Christina Hale. Spartz would have won by more than 16 percentage points under the new map, the Indianapolis Star reported.
In northeast Indiana, the 3rd Congressional District now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Banks would shed much of the western portion of Kosciusko County, ensuring a more rural district to favor the GOP. The 2nd District, which has been more competitive, gives Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski a stronger GOP base with the addition of Warsaw.
Christopher Warshaw, a George Washington University political science professor who studies gerrymandering, issued a report in June for the activist group Women4Change saying Indiana's state and congressional maps are more skewed in favor of Republicans than most others created in the past 50 years across the country. That's not changed with the new maps, he said Thursday.
Gerrymandering threatens voters' faith in elections, which erodes confidence in democracy, Warshaw said. Secretive processes aren't helpful, either.
“Having more transparency and judicial oversight over the process would help,” he said.
House Speaker Todd Huston was dismissive of claims lines were drawn to partisan advantage.
“People are going to think what they want to think,” he told reporters.
We think Hoosier voices are being shut out of an important redistricting process.