Redistricting Reform Bills Pass Indiana State Senate

By votes of 47-1 and 45-3, the Indiana State Senate approved two significant redistricting reform bills on January 28. The bills, SB-80 and SB-136, now move to the Indiana House of Representatives. The first bill establishes key guidelines for drawing districts, while the second establishes a study committee to look into the possibility of further reform.

Currently, Indiana’s state code delegates redistricting power to the state legislature, however, its only guideline for drawing districts is that they must be contiguous. SB-80 outlines several new criteria that must be met when districts:

  • Preserve traditional neighborhoods
  • Preserve communities of interest
  • Protect minority voting rights
  • Compactness
  • “Simple shapes”
  • Respect county boundaries

It doesn’t specify in which order these requirements should be met. While the law does not explicitly mention the Voting Rights Act, it requires that districts be consistent with federal law.

SB-136 establishes a seventeen-member study committee, composed of legislators and private citizens and chaired by the Chief Justice, to observe redistricting processes in other states during the 2011 cycle and determine whether or not to implement an independent redistricting commission for the 2021 redistricting cycle. The legislature would still maintain control over redistricting during the 2011 cycle. The bill passed the Republican-majority Senate chamber after it rejected a Democrat-sponsored bill earlier this week that would have established an independent commission for the current (2011) cycle. The three votes against the bill were protest votes from Democratic senators.

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita has been the foremost advocate for redistricting reform in Indiana since September 2009. He commended the Indiana Senate for its bipartisanship in passing the bills, but lamented that an independent commission will not be formed in time for the 2011 cycle. Secretary Rotika, a Republican, has announced his candidacy for the open seat in Indiana’s 4th Congressional district, where the incumbent, Republican Steve Buyer, announced he would not be running again. Secretary Rotika previously declined to join the field of challengers to Evan Bayh in what is expected to be a hotly contested Senate race.

The House will take up the legislation next month. Secretary Rokita says he will urge the house to take up the issues of incumbent addresses and “nesting.” Passage is less certain in the Democrat-controlled house, which may seek to hold on to as much political control as possible in the state. Republicans are on track to make gains in the 2010 elections, after winning the Senate seat and the governor’s mansion in 2008. The top two Republican challengers to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Evan Bayh both hold 3-point leads, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

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