County Council Confuses Redistricting Efforts by Putting Forward Three Sets of Maps

SJC County Council
St. Joseph County Council deliberates allowing public comment at a special meeting in November 2021

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Democrats on the St. Joseph County Council unveiled three — rather than one — set of maps Monday, adding further confusion to an already unclear redistricting process.

The Democrats took the reactionary move after the Republican minority on the council forced the issue by producing their own set of maps and calling for a public hearing. Republicans rightly worried, that unless pushed, Democrats might not fulfill their statutory duties and complete the maps by the December 31st deadline. 

The Democrats’ decision to offer three contingency plans, incorporating pages and pages of maps, which are blurry and look as if they were drawn by a third grader, seem anything but straightforward. This is precisely the opposite of the Republican commissioners’ methodology, which produced a clear, legible map efficiently and on-time. You can view both the Democrat and Republican proposals below.

It’s almost as if the Democrats are intentionally complicating an already complicated process to keep the public in the dark. Their tactics are designed to stall and prevent the democratic process from going forward. Their threats of litigation — promising to sue over the commissioners’ already completed maps — is sure to tie up the issue even longer. Under the Democrats’ plan, constituents lose, with no clear path of determining which candidates can actually run in the 2022 elections.

The problem is, the Democrats feel cornered by the commissioner maps. The 3-person Republican Board of Commissioners, by law, got to draw maps first and split up the county into three commissioner districts. They then handed their maps off to the Democrat-heavy council. It is the 9-person council’s job to put three of their districts into each of the commissioners’ districts. The problem is, the council Democrats couldn’t draw their maps how they wanted using the commissioner boundaries. Under the former gerrymandered maps, drawn entirely by the Democrats a decade ago, the Democrats had a clear advantage. That’s why they retain six of the nine seats on the council and have the numbers to override any commissioner veto. This is despite the fact that we live in a county won by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb. The Democrats can’t get anywhere near those odds under the new system.

So, because of that, Democrats have neglected their duty to move forward with the redistricting process quickly – even though they have a legal duty to issue the maps by the end of this year. Instead, they have spent the past month dilly-dallying and threatening to file a lawsuit, which we are still waiting on them to file. It was because of this shirking of their responsibility that Republicans on the council felt compelled to produce their own set of maps — maps that the South Bend Tribune described as a balanced plan in its news story: “Democrats and Republicans would each have three favorable St. Joseph County Council districts, while the three remaining seats could be battlegrounds, under election maps proposed by the Council’s three GOP members.” 

The unfortunate set of many maps the Democrats put forward this week will only unnecessarily prolong and complicate this painful process. One set of maps is contingent on if the council could successfully challenge the constitutionality of a state statute based on population and representation rules. On the longshot chance that they would win that case, our council would be reduced from nine to seven members, with three of them changed to at-large councilmen. A second set of maps is contingent on if the council could successfully sue the commissioners for creating illegal or unconstitutional maps and would basically use the 2010 map. And, the third set of maps is contingent on if none of the lawsuits are won and the council must draw within the new commissioner districts. 

With such a convoluted scenario, the council is doing a disservice to its residents. If the council is sincere about providing constituents with a clear path forward, they will discard all their contingency plans and pass their third set of maps — which already closely resembles the maps put forward by the Republican minority. Such a decisive action, which already has a fair amount of bipartisan agreement, would allow candidates to know their districts when the filing window opens on January 5th. It is wrong for Democrats to drag this out any longer. In the end, it could prevent challengers from coming forward in 2022. For the sake of the county, it is time for the Democrats to put politics aside and finally finish the maps. 

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