Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Precincts and Proposed New Council Districts

I've had a bundle of information provided to me about new precinct and Council district maps in the last 24 hours.  Short story - the political parties are girding for battle and the only ones who aren't getting their fair say appears to be the public and the taxpayers.

Lets start with the new precinct maps.  The Mayor of Indianapolis has the sole authority to draw precinct boundaries.  According to City-County Council President, Ryan Vaughn,  Mayor Greg Ballard requested that Vaughn get the precincts drawn up on behalf of the Mayor.  Vaughn, through a Council contract, hired Republican operative David Brooks, to redraw the precinct boundaries.  The Republican 'explanation' for the need for new precincts is that the State Legislature drew up their new House and Senate districts without regard for precinct boundaries, in some cases splitting those precincts.

Now when a precinct is split, that means that there must be multiple ballots in the split precinct on Election Day, to accommodate the different constituents of the different districts.  Split precincts are not fun on election day as there are invariably folks given the wrong ballot and frustrated voters and poll workers.  In addition, the need for multiple variations of the ballot for a precinct drives up the cost of conducting the election; the added expense being passed on to the taxpayers, of course.

So, at first blush, reprecincting would seem to be a good way to save the taxpayers money by covering the lack of intelligent redistricting by the State Legislature.

However, consider this additional fact.  The Township Boards just finished redrawing their districts to conform to the 2000 census.  They had to finish their mapping by earlier this month as the Board seats are on the 2012 ballot.  State law bans redistricting during any year a district is up for election.  The Boards drew their new districts using the old precinct boundaries.  By introducing new precincts, the Mayor has guaranteed that there will be many split districts during next year's Primary and General Elections.  Some of the new precincts may be split by more than one Township Board district.

My examination of Indiana House and Senate districts leads me to a count of 15 House and 9 Senate districts that include any precincts in Marion County.  Compare that with the 9 Township Boards in our County, with 7 districts each, or 63 seats total.  The probability is high that there will be far more split precincts with the new map than had the old map been retained.  Expect a concomitant increase in expense for the two elections next year as a result.

Now on to the newly proposed Council district maps.  The Democratic caucus of the Council does bring up some legitimate criticisms of the way Vaughn has maneuvered the introduction of the maps to the Council for a vote.  Jon Easter posted the caucus' statement on his blog, Indy Democrat, just yesterday.  The Democrats point to the timing of the Mayor's approval of the new precinct maps, coming just two hours before the deadline for introduction of new proposals to the Council for 2011 - and - introduction by Vaughn of a Council Proposal to accept the new Council district maps drawn up under contract by Brooks, just minutes before the deadline.  This left the Democratic caucus with no opportunity to either draw their own proposed map with the new precinct boundaries, or to introduce said map to the Council for consideration.  That move by Vaughn was a clear partisan steamroller approach to party politics.

This is not to say that the Democrats can't draw their own maps when they take over in January. Obviously, Mayor Ballard will not sign such a map.  Also, it does not preclude a Court contest of any Republican map adopted in 2011, as State law seems to ban adoption of Council district maps any earlier than 2012.

I would remind all readers that ten years ago, the State Supreme Court came up with the districts we are now using and that they are nicely compact and in the best interest of Democracy.  The Democrat and Republican proposed maps introduced ten years ago suffered from as much gerrymandering as the ones to be introduced to the Council on December 5.

Meanwhile, there are 4 public meetings - one of which was held last night, with almost no notice.  From one attendee, I am told that the only basis of comment that will be considered by Brooks and the Republican caucus, is if there is a problem with the process.  They will not consider problems with the resultant map.

I spoke with Julia Vaughn (no relation to Ryan) of Common Cause about the mapping process.  Common Cause has, for a long time now, taken an interest in how district maps at all levels of government are drawn and has promoted a process that would embrace the least amount of gerrymandering at the lowest cost to taxpayers.  She has mentioned that there are programs that can be used, inexpensively, by any computer literate citizen to draw up their own proposal for compact districts that keep connected features of interest together.  Such a program, of course, would have to include the precinct boundaries in its code.  The speed with which Ryan Vaughn and Greg Ballard kicked through the new precincts followed by the introduction of a proposed Council map obviated any real participation by voters and taxpayers.

Julia Vaughn further suggests the following for a good public process to redistrict:
Best way would have been to appoint a diverse group of people - black, white, Latino, Republican. Democrat, Libertarian, Independent, northside, southside, eastside, westside, (you get the idea) of folks that would sponsor meetings in every township before any maps were drawn to get public input on what communities of interest exist (might be a racial group, neighborhood group, historic district etc) and what voters think the new districts should emphasize (competitive elections vs. a compact geographic area for example).  The map drawer should have weighed all of these considerations and then produced a map.  A second round of meetings should have followed to get or not get the public's buy-in on  what was proposed. 
This did not happen with the Republican map.  We mere citizens, who should be in the loop on such an important thing like Council districts, are left standing on the sidelines.  We can hope that the Democrats, who surely will proposed their own Council map in 2012, will follow an inclusive process like that suggested by Julia Vaughn.  Somebody in office needs to give a hoot about the public interest and the inclusion of the public in a fair and ample public process.

If you would like to attend one of the three remaining meetings on the new maps they are:

December 1st (Thursday) 6-8pm  ---  John Boner Center, 2236 East 10th Street

December 6th  (Tuesday) 6-8pm ---  Sterrett Center, 8950 Otis Avenue

December 8th (Thursday) 6-8pm ---  City County Building, Public Assembly Room

The Council Proposal containing the Republican Council district maps, will be introduced next Monday, December 5.  It likely will be assigned to the Rules Committee for a public hearing.  There are no currently scheduled meetings for that committee for the rest of the year, but one will surely be added to accommodate this issue.  Stay tuned for date and time.

1 comment:

Nicolas Martin said...

Ryan Vaughn is a menace, so naturally he will eventually become mayor.