INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's significant population shifts over the past decade mean rural areas will lose seats in the Legislature while Indianapolis and its surrounding suburbs will gain influence.
Republicans can be expected to use their iron-clad control of the once-a-decade redistricting process, however, to draw new election districts for Indiana House and Senate seats that help maintain their commanding majorities in the General Assembly.
Democratic Rep. Sue Errington knows that the Muncie district she first won in 2012 could be on the chopping block when Republicans release today the proposed new Indiana House and U.S. House maps they've drawn behind closed doors.
Errington's district has lost 7% of its population since 2010 for one of the largest drops among the 100 Indiana House seats, according to a census analysis by City University of New York. It is surrounded by Republican-held districts that also lost population and have to gain territory, making Errington a potential target.
“If they were ready to get rid of me, it would be pretty easy,” Errington said.
Voting-rights activists argue that partisan gerrymandering has helped Indiana Republicans gain outsized power in state government. Over the past decade, Republicans have ousted all Democrats from rural legislative districts across the state as they've built majorities of 71-29 in the House and 39-11 in the Senate.
Republicans have used the full legislative supermajorities they've held since the 2012 elections to advance issues including expanding state funding of vouchers for students attending private schools, toughening anti-abortion laws and approving the contentious state religious objections law in 2015.
Republicans might have to shed some of their rural districts as more than half of the state's 92 counties lost residents over the past decade. But the fastest-growing areas are also friendly Republican territory, with all five state House districts that grew by more than 20% being GOP-held seats in suburban Indianapolis.
Republican state Rep. Tim Wesco of Osceola, chairman of the House elections committee, said he anticipated some dramatic changes in legislative district maps.
“You're definitely going to see some of these districts that already have quite a few counties, probably gain a few more counties and expand,” Wesco said.
Republicans plan to move quickly to approve the new districts, with the House elections committee holding two days of public hearings Wednesday and Thursday followed by votes in the full House next week. Proposed state Senate maps are set for release Sept. 21, with a final Senate vote expected Oct. 1.