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Indiana News

St. Joseph County Council Democrats, Republicans unveil potential redistricting maps

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St. Joseph County Council
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The St. Joseph County Council held a public meeting Wednesday night to gather feedback on council district maps proposed by its Republican and Democratic members.

Council Democrats continue to advance a lawsuit over the new County Commissioner maps and have unveiled three separate council maps depending on the outcome of the suit. Republicans, by contrast, have unveiled one proposal.

The new commmissioner maps, enacted by a 2 to 1 vote of the all-Republican commissioners last month, created a heavily minority and Democratic South Bend based District 2 while making the other two districts whiter and more Republican.

The new District 1 includes all of Granger and the rural western portions of the county and the new District 3 includes all of Mishawaka, the southernmost portion of South Bend and the rural areas directly south.

Due to a change in Indiana law this year that only applies to St. Joseph County, the commissioners no longer needed the council’s approval to draw electoral maps — and all County Council districts must be drawn within County Commissioner districts.

Earlier this week, council Republicans unveiled a proposal following those guidelines that would create three Republican districts, three Democratic districts and three heavily competitive districts.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The Republican council members' proposal.

That could potentially break the council’s current 6 to 3, veto-proof Democratic majority.

But council Democrats say the commissioner maps are gerrymandered and possibly illegal because they pack Black voters into that new District 2.

They are in the process of bringing a lawsuit against the maps after voting along party lines last month to hire Indianapolis law firm Ice Miller at a cost of up to $100,000, and have unveiled three separate council district map proposals — one for each potential outcome of the suit.

The first map hinges on population changes in the 2020 census.

Under current Indiana law, counties with a population between 250,000 and 270,000 have commissioners elected from three districts, and nine council members elected from districts within those districts.

But that effectively only applied to St. Joseph County, as it was the only county in Indiana to fall within that range.

The first map’s ordinance states that the statute violates the Indiana constitution, which includes language saying state legislators should not pass “local or special laws” governing the election of county officials.

But under the 2020 census, St. Joseph County now has 272,912 residents.

That means legally, county elections should run as they do in the majority of Indiana — three commissioners running in county-wide, at-large elections and a seven-member council made up of four council members running in districts and three running at-large.

The first map proposed by Democrats is in line with that statute and creates four council districts.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The first Democratic council members' proposal.

A bill passed during a special legislative session earlier this year temporarily froze population values at 2010 levels for determining the redistricting process.

But that means the commissioners used 2020 census data to draw the maps, but 2010 census data to determine the process for doing so — a bit of a paradox.

The second map would fall into place if courts find that the county council having nine districts is legal but strike down the enacted commissioner maps.

It includes nine council districts and three commissioner districts, both very similar to the maps that existed from 2011 to 2021.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The second Democratic council members' proposal.

The third proposal is for if the courts disagree with all legal challenges to the maps.

It draws nine council districts within the newly enacted commissioner districts — and is most similar to the proposal Republican council members unveiled earlier this week —but has a few tweaks in seats covering South Bend and Mishawaka.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The third Democratic council members' proposal.

Indiana law states redistricting must be complete by the end of the year, and candidates begin filling for office in January.

The majority of those at the Wednesday meeting supported the new commissioner maps — and the council map proposal from the Republican council members — and criticized county Democrats for planning to bring a lawsuit. But several speakers supported the Democrats’ efforts.

The County Council is holding a special meeting Thursday night for a first reading of the proposals. A vote may happen next Tuesday.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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