Every 10 years following the census Indiana counties, school districts, cities, and towns that have single-member electoral districts are required to either redistrict or recertify that their existing districts are compact, contiguous, and as nearly equal in population as possible. It can be a daunting task since it is one that is not done very often, and many times elected leaders change and may have never even been through the process.
This year we have utilized the expertise of a non-profit from Greencastle, Indiana named Indiana Local Government Redistricting, and its leader Ms. Kelsey Kauffman, a Harvard University and Yale graduate with many academic distinctions and fellowships. Here’s their website:
Merrillville was in a unique position as one Ward (or district) had almost twice as many people living there than the lowest populated ward. Ward 5 (which happens to be my ward) has 8,342 residents, according to the last census, living there versus 4,231 in Ward 7, the lowest populated ward. That equates to a 78.9% deviation rate. I was told that our figure is the worst in the entire State! The goal of redistricting is to have as much of an equal amount of population as possible in each ward (district). Acceptable population deviations do not appear in state statutes but instead arise from federal and state case law. Congressional districts can have 0 (zero) population deviation within a state, which means they must all have the (exact) same number of people, plus or minus one person. State legislative districts are usually permitted up to a 3% deviation. Courts have used 10% as the maximum population deviation for local governments except under unusual circumstances (e.g., the Hawaiian Islands), but the usual recommendation is to aim for less than 5%, if possible.
When Ms. Kauffman contacted me to simply inquire if we were working on our redistricting plans, we began a dialog about the need and process in the state. She stated that Lake County in general has not been doing a great job of equality in the overall county and several cities and towns in the county. I could tell that she was someone who was well-versed in this complicated topic. She offered many great tips as to how Merrillville could accomplish our goals.
As our call ended, she “wished me luck” moving forward. I jokingly asked her, “You mean that’s it, just ‘good luck”? After a chuckle, she explained that they are very busy assisting other cities and towns, and she didn’t know if they have the time to devote to assisting Merrillville. I said that any assistance would be appreciated, and she said they would try, but could not promise anything.
That was a Thursday. And to my surprise beginning on Friday, I started to receive emails with map ideas for Merrillville to even our population throughout the wards to comply with State Codes. We discussed several ideas and on Monday/Tuesday of this week, we felt that we had a very doable and fair redistricting map that would get Merrillville down to a 4.99% deviation between all seven wards. The Town Council reviewed the map and population numbers and I believe we have a workable solution that we plan to vote on next week at our regularly scheduled Town Council meeting.
The Indiana Local Government Redistricting organization assists cities and towns at NO CHARGE to the municipality. In our case, Ms. Kauffman, and her son Aden Richards volunteered to assist Merrillville. Perhaps the challenge intrigued them! The process did require us to split two precincts in town which is certainly acceptable, and we will work to educate voters as to where and how they will vote in the future. Precincts 3 and 7 have been divided, but our goal is to have voters continue to use the same voting locations, if possible, to avoid confusion on election day(s). There will simply be a side A and a side B with different voting machines for those precincts when town-wide races are on the ballot.
Once the redistricting plan is approved, I’ll post an updated and much more detailed map for you to review, share, and use with street name details and precinct numbers, etc. -Rick Bella, Ward 5 Representative & Town Council President