SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In December, REAL News Michiana learned the Democrat run City of South Bend had hired a law firm out of Indianapolis to file a lawsuit against St. Joseph County. At the time that RNM published the story, Mayor Mueller and the Democrats refused to comment. Today, the city finally filed that lawsuit in an attempt to change how the county’s elections are held. The lawsuit is aimed at legislation that passed decades ago at the behest of Democrats that changed the way county government officials are elected in St. Joseph and Lake Counties. At the time, the legislation benefited Democrats. Now that the county has turned red and redistricting has made the election process more fair, Democrats with the city are looking to change the law they once championed.
At issue is Indiana Code 36-2-3.5-1 which determines how a county government is to be organized based on strange and specific population guides, that happened to only impact the historically Democrat run counties in Northwest Indiana. The legislation was passed in 1981, at the beginning of the Ronald Reagan presidency, when there was a growing Republican party and Democrats were looking for ways to stem the tide and protect their power. The legislation allowed Democrats to gerrymander districts in a way that would allow them to protect their power for decades.
The law structures the county government in a way where there are 3 County Commissioners and 9 County Council Seats. This is different than nearly the entire state, which has 3 Commissioners and 7 Council Members.
How county officials are elected is different as well. St. Joseph and Lake Counties elect each commissioner and council member in DISTRICT-WIDE races. The rest of the state has at-large (or COUNTY-WIDE) races for all three commissioner seats. Three council members are also elected in at-large races. While only 4 council seats are elected in district-wide races.
The lawsuit claims the law structuring the county government, which was passed in 1981, is unconstitutional. Democrats are only now filing the lawsuit after the 2022 general election, where they lost control of the County Council and County Commission.
REAL News Michiana sent an email to Mayor Mueller's spokesperson, Allison Zeithammer with the following questions: "Why is the City of South Bend just now filing this litigation after the Republicans took control of the Council and Commissioners for the first time in history? Did this representation not matter when Democrats controlled the county?"
As of publication, RNM has not received a response.
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