TERRE HAUTE — Removing prison inmates from population counts, making districts more compact and simple in shape and reducing the number of state legislators in each district were among public suggestions on how the Indiana General Assembly should redraw legislative and congressional maps in Indiana.

About 50 people attended a public hearing, staged by Republican Indiana House and Senate election committees on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

Tom Hansen, resident of Clayton, said state law requires districts be based on population and be contiguous. The state constitution states House seats cannot exceed 100 members while the Senate cannot exceed 50, “but there doesn’t have to be that many senators or representatives,” Hansen said.

The only politically neutral concept to redraw districts, Hansen said, is to base districts on compactness. Nine congressional districts must be drawn this year. Each of those can be drawn, based on population, in simple shapes, he said. Then in each congressional district, place 10 Indiana House seats and five Indiana Senate seats, Hansen said.

Brad Burbrink, a farmer in Vigo and Clay counties, said he would like legislators to consider rural areas, including them with urban areas “and the larger population for us to have a say at the Statehouse.”

Jasen Gibbens said he lives in Clay County, where three House districts overlap. Gibbens said “it would be nicer to have one point of contact” for representation.

Vern Tincher, a former Democrat state representative from Riley, said he was involved in redistricting in 1991 and 2001. Tincher said Democrats drew House maps that favored its party, including adding Bean Blossom Township in Monroe County into House District 46, which Tincher used to represent.

However, House districts drawn in 2001 are within 1.92 percent population deviation from the low to the high, Tincher said,  while Senate districts are not as close in population, with a 3.8 percent deviation.

“When you have 120,000 people in any Senate district and you can’t get any closer than almost 4 percent, that is 4,800 votes you have to play with,” Tincher said, adding that is why Senate races are no longer competitive between Democrats and Republicans.

The Indiana Senate now has 37 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

“I think Indiana is not 74 percent Republican. The House has been competitive but the Senate has not,” Tincher said.

Kelsey Kauffman, adjunct professor of university studies at DePauw University, recommended legislators not count state or federal prison inmates in population counts when establishing voting districts. “That means the boundaries of a district would have to expand out to take a like number of residents” in a district, she said.

DePauw University student Shreeya Neupane said House District 9, in LaPorte County, has 8 percent of its district’s population from inmates, the most in the state. House District 46 in Vigo County has 5 percent of its district population from inmates, while House District 45 in Sullivan County has 3 percent of its population counted with inmates, and Senate District 39, in Sullivan County, has 4 percent.

DePauw student Stephen Shapiro said not counting inmates is politically neutral and constitutionally sound because inmates are “disenfranchised, their residency is non-voluntary, are not participants in the local economy and are not beneficiaries of local government decisions.”

Paul Chase, representing AARP Indiana and a resident of Brown County, told legislators he would like to see districts drawn “incumbent blind,” making districts in simple shapes and on “what makes sense instead of protecting an incumbent.”

Legislators at the hearing included Reps. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute; Eric Koch, R-Bedford; Woody Burton, R-Greenwood; and Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis; along with Sens. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis; Connie Lawson, R-Danville; and Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis. Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, was the lone Democrat at the hearing.

Skinner said the hearing was more “a public listening tour and it ought to be a public discussion tour, answering questions.”

Senate Democrats this week launched their own redistricting website to encourage constituent participation. That site, www.senatedemocrats.in.gov/redistricting.htm, allows people to share thoughts and opinions on how maps could impact their representation.
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