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St. Joseph County Council passes 3-map redistricting plan

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Screenshot captured via Zoom
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The St. Joseph County Council finally has a redistricting plan in place. 

Council members passed a new set of election maps Tuesday night in a 6-to-3, party-line vote. But which map will go into effect still depends on a lawsuit the council plans to file against the all-Republican County Commissioners. 

 

The commissioners passed a controversial set of election maps back in November that made two of their districts more Republican and the third overwhelmingly Democratic. 

 

Democratic council members say the maps are gerrymandered, packing all of South Bend’s minority and Democratic votes into District 2. They hired Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller shortly after the commissioners’ vote, but have yet to file a lawsuit.  

 

In the meantime, they proposed three new maps based on which parts of the potential lawsuit the court may side with.

 

Most public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting were against the three-map plan, saying it was unnecessarily complicated. They also objected to taxpayer money being used for a potential lawsuit.

 

But Democratic Councilman Mark Catanzarite said the council had no choice after the commissioners refused to collaborate on bipartisan maps.

 

“If there were hope that we could get this matter resolved across party lines and before Dec. 31, I don’t think we’d even be talking about a lawsuit,” he said. “We’ve tried to do it the diplomatic way, and unfortunately, this time it didn’t work.”

 

During public comment, Commissioner Derek Dieter said he would be open to a joint meeting about the maps, but was unsure if Commissioners Andy Kostielney and Deb Fleming would participate. 

 

“All I can do is ask them,” he said. “Hopefully they would, but [there are] political ideologies of one party over the other and, ‘We have to hold the line.’” 

 

Dieter voted against the commissioners’ maps in November, attributing his vote to a lack of transparency in the process.

 

At the commissioners' meeting Wednesday afternoon, Kostielney said he had met with three council members that morning to discuss "any opportunity to maybe modify the maps and come to some kind of consensus."

 

Still, he and Fleming voted to veto the three-map ordinance, which now returns to the County Council.

 

"There were portions of this ordinance that I thought were well done, but quite frankly, any ordinance that's built on contingencies I don't even know how it's viable," Kostielney said Wednesday. "It's very difficult for me to support something that is based on a series of events that we don't even know the answers to."

 

The council will hold a special meeting Thursday to consider overriding the veto. Democratic Councilman Corey Noland said Tuesday the council is still open to negotiating with the commissioners until that time.

 

“The door is not completely closed until a final vote on Thursday,” Noland said.

 

The three-map plan

 

The council’s 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, which was the only Hoosier county within that range.

 

The council's first map ordinance says that statute violates the Indiana constitution, which prevents state legislators from passing “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 elections and a seven-member council made up of four council members running in districts and three running at-large.

 

The first map creates four council districts to that end.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The council's first map.

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

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 falls into place if courts decide that it’s legal to have nine county council districts, but that the commissioners’ maps are illegal.

 

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 council's second map.

The third goes into effect if the courts disagree with all of the council’s legal challenges.

It draws nine council districts within the newly enacted commissioner districts. It’s fairly similar to a proposal Republican council members made last week, but has a few tweaks to seats covering South Bend and Mishawaka.

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Credit St. Joseph County Council
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The council's third map.

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

This story has been updated.

Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.