Elections: Monroe County commissioners gearing up for redrawing of local boundaries after state-level districts are decided

At its Wednesday work session, Monroe County’s board of commissioners agreed on a resolution that will establish an advisory committee to guide its decisions on the redrawing of precinct and district boundaries for the county.

The upcoming work of potentially redrawing precinct boundaries—and possibly districts for county commissioners and county councilors—is prompted by the decennial census. That’s the same impetus for the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts, which is currently underway.

Results of the 2020 US Census were released in mid-August.

Redistricting work on the local level can’t be completed until the state-level districts are drawn. If an existing precinct is split by a state legislative or congressional district, it has to be redrawn so that it is not split.

Indiana’s state legislators are expected to settle on district boundaries in mid-to-late September.

Changes to precinct boundaries could have an impact on the redrawing of Bloomington city council districts in 2022, because precincts are the ordinary building blocks of council districts.

In the shorter term, work on the local level in the next several weeks will be done by the county government.

Oct. 15 is the deadline this year for a county to file a proposed re-precincting order with the Indiana Election Division (IED), according to a July 1 memo from the co-directors of the IED.

That means the county’s redistricting advisory committee will need to be established and its work completed in the next six weeks or so.

At next Wednesday’s (Sept. 1) meeting of the commissioners, the resolution establishing a redistricting advisory committee for the county will get a vote that ratifies the decision made at the work session.

Commissioners said this week that potential appointees to the committee are welcome to go ahead and apply, using the county’s online application form for any board or commission.

At Wednesday’s work session, the president of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, said the committee would be politically balanced. She added, “But we’re also obviously going to be looking at geographic diversity, ethnicity, race, gender, gender identity, as much as we can.” Thomas said it would be a small group.

Ten years ago, a similar resolution, establishing a precinct and boundary advisory committee was approved on July 1.

The timeline has been delayed and compressed this year due to the late release of the US Census figures.

It’s the four numbered county council district seats that will be elected in 2022. Potential candidates might be keen to see if the boundaries to existing districts are changed in any significant way.

Incumbent county councilors are: Peter Iversen (District 1), Kate Witz (District 2), Marty Hawk (District 3), and Eric Spoonmore (District 4). Hawk is the lone Republican serving on the county council. The three at-large seats (Geoff McKim, Cheryl Munson, and Trent Deckard) were elected in 2020.

Spoonmore announced in early July that he will not be seeking re-election.

Just one of the three county commissioners seats is up for election in 2022—District 1, which is currently represented by Lee Jones.

The precinct boundaries that are decided by county commissioners in the next few weeks could impact decisions made by Bloomington’s city council in 2022.

The basic building blocks of Bloomington’s six city council districts are precincts. So changes to precinct boundaries made by county commissioners this year could impact the way city council district boundaries are drawn in 2022.

Late last year, Bloomington’s city council passed an ordinance creating a nine-member citizens redistricting advisory commission (CRAC).

The CRAC is supposed to be established at the start of the year following each decennial census, exist for two years, then dissolve. That means the first edition of the CRAC was supposed to be established Jan. 1 of this year. As of Aug. 27, 2021, none of the nine members have been appointed.

What’s the logic behind establishing the CRAC a year ahead of the calendar year when the city council is required to redraw its district boundaries? The reasoning is related to the re-precincting work that the county government will be doing in the next few weeks. The idea is that Bloomington’s CRAC should provide input to county commissioners on the drawing of precinct boundaries inside the city.

So far, 18 people have applied for the nine spots on the CRAC, according to city council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas.

That’s the bare minimum needed, in order for the city council to follow the appointment process outlined in the ordinance. The ordinance calls for a random selection from three pools of six applicants. According to Lucas, four or five of the applicants so far might not meet the requirements for membership.

Among other requirements, members of the CRAC must have voted as a Bloomington resident  in at least one of the last two general elections immediately preceding their application to the commission.

Compared to changes in precinct boundaries, probably more impactful on Bloomington’s 2022 redistricting process will be population shifts inside Bloomington, as measured by the 2020 census. Bloomington’s population decreased, according to the census count, from 80,405 to 79,168.

Much of the decrease was measured in student neighborhoods. The relative population balance among precincts shifted so much from 2010 to 2020, that the boundaries would need to be redrawn.

Table: Bloomington city council district population

District Population Count 2020 Population Count 2010
District 1 15,379 13,677
District 2 12,985 12,868
District 3 12,746 13,926
District 4 13,223 13,500
District 5 14,057 13,672
District 6 10,783 12,765

The 2012 districts were drawn based on a goal of less than 10-percent variance, where variance is defined by the biggest district’s population minus the smallest district’s population divided by the mean of the population in the six districts.

The 2012 council districts came in at 8.6 percent variance. The result of the 2020 census count would make the variance for Bloomington’s districts 34.8 percent.

Not factored into that calculation is any city territory that would be added as part of Bloomington’s current annexation process. The city council’s votes on the ordinances for each proposed annexation area are set for mid-September.

The final outcome of the annexation process, after all potential remonstrance issues are settled, might not be clear until 2022 or later, depending on how much litigation is involved.