Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Democrats call for fairness in County Council redistricting

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A small crowd of County Democrats Tuesday urged the County Commissioners’ to exercise fairness and accuracy as they reconfigure the County Council district maps for next year’s election.

Before opening a public hearing Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said that state law makes the board of commissioners the body solely responsible for redistricting.

“It is our charge and we are going to carry it out,” Evans said, further explaining that counties in Indiana are to reevaluate district lines based on population when a census is taken every ten years.

No one from the audience contended what the law says but three speakers, all of whom were Democrats, urged the Commissioners to make sure they are using the correct population information.

The Commissioner board is GOP-dominated with Center District Commissioner Nancy Adams also a Republican. The board’s one Democrat is Laura Shurr Blaney who represents the south district.

County Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said he believes from the data he’s researched that the Council districts meet the requirements of having its population deviation below 10 percent instead of the 25 percent originally mentioned in a letter from Association of Indiana Counties, citing a study done by a group of students and faculty from DePauw University.

Rivas said he has exchanged e-mails with DePauw program advisor Kelsey Kaufman informing her of the population figures he has for his district, which differ from the information the students were given in August 2012 for their study.

Kaufman said she had a statewide breakdown of each election district given to her by the Indiana Election Division which matched data in another document that was submitted to her via e-mail by Sundae Schoon, Republican Director for the Porter County Voters Registration office. The population data the students used for each Council district included precincts of entire townships while Rivas noted that three Portage Twp. precincts are in District 4 and three others are in District 1.

Kaufman advised Rivas in her e-mail that if his data is correct, the county’s population deviation is 9.96 percent with the changes to Districts 1 and 2 and “thus would appear to be in compliance with Indiana’s redistricting requirements.”

Evans told Rivas Tuesday that the Commissioners will be using the population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Indiana Election Commission when they look at the maps again to make the districts “as equal as possible.”

Meanwhile, Rivas said he felt the Commissioners were not being fair waiting until a month and a half from the first day of candidate filing -- Jan. 8 -- for the 2014 elections when they had the chance to make new maps in 2011, when they first had the census data, or earlier this year.

Rivas intends to run for reelection but may be cut out of his current district as a result of redistricting as he resides near the south border. He said prospective candidates considering a run for a County Council seat face the same concern, not knowing who their opponents might be.

“I don’t feel it would be fair to all people wanting to run for office. It’s not something that should be taken lightly,” Rivas said, adding that he isn’t against the concept of redistricting, but opposes making changes this late in the year.

Evans said his board had approached the idea of redistricting in the last few months of 2011 and was still debating changes in the earlier part of 2012 when the voters registration office said they could hold off until 2013 since redistricting is to be done in an odd-numbered year. The issue didn’t pop up again until October, he said, when they received the letter about the findings from the DePauw group.

“Nobody brought it back to our attention,” Evans said.

Following Rivas, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke offered his assistance on creating the maps to help the Commissioners equalize the population numbers “as close as possible”

Porter resident Jennifer Klug, the third and final speaker, said she read that the DePauw group had incorrect information and asked the Commissioners to make sure the data they have is valid.

“The most important thing is to have accurate figures and accurate following of the law,” Klug said.

Also in the audience to support Rivas were County Democratic Chairperson Jeff Chidester, Democratic director of the Voters Registration office Kathy Kozuszek, and Portage Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham, who hold offices in the Porter County Democratic central committee.

Another Democrat, County Council at-large member Sylvia Graham, did not make comments during the public hearing but told the Chesterton Tribune after the meeting she thought it would be unfair if the maps were skewed in such a way that someone from the north part of the county represented residents in the south half of the county, or vice versa.

Evans reiterated that, by statute, the Commissioners are tasked with deciding redistricting and “will follow the law.”

The Commissioners hope to have the new maps drawn up by their next meeting on Dec. 3, otherwise at their Dec. 19 meeting, Evans said.

 

Posted 11/20/2013