Precinct boundary recommendations for Monroe County could come Monday

A four-person committee that is supposed to advise the county commissioners on precinct and district boundaries for Monroe County is looking to make its first set of recommendations early next week.

Appointed by the Monroe County board of commissioners in mid-October, the committee hopes to settle on precinct boundary recommendations by the end of its meeting next Monday (Nov. 1). This past Thursday, the committee wrapped up the fourth of its meetings over the last two weeks.

Recommendations on boundaries for the four county council districts and the three county commissioner districts could come sometime in late November.

For Monday, committee members want the county’s GIS and legal staff to prepare an easily reviewable package of precinct boundary changes that are mostly technical in nature. One exception is a precinct on the south edge of Bloomington, which would mean a change of voting location for an area where 100 people live.

If the committee is able to make its precinct boundary recommendations by the end of its Monday meeting, that would set the table for county commissioners to review the proposed precinct boundaries at their Nov. 3 work session.

That schedule would allow a vote by commissioners the following Wednesday, on Nov. 10. It would put the vote two days ahead of a Nov. 12 deadline, which the state has set for submission of precinct boundary changes this year.

The state’s deadline for county council and county commissioner district boundary changes is Dec. 26. But on Thursday county attorney Jeff Cockerill urged the committee members not to wait that long. Cockerill suggested that they try to complete their district boundary recommendations by the end of November. That would set up county commissioners for a work session review and a vote the following week in early December.

One substantive change that the committee talked through on Thursday involves boundaries for a precinct that currently consists of two separate parts.

The Perry 04 precinct, just outside Bloomington’s southern city limits, forming a kind of notch out of the city, consists of two separate non-touching parts. The larger chunk sits to the west and a small “castle-shaped” bit lies to the east. The castle-shaped bit consists of three census blocks with a total population of 100, based on the 2020 census (18+23+59).

It’s not possible to merge the small castle-shaped bit of Perry 04 into the precinct just to the north, Perry 10, because that would result in a precinct that crosses a city boundary.

The current precinct revisions have to be based just on the current city boundaries, not those that might be established through Bloomington’s current annexation effort. The precincts in question are a part of Bloomington annexation Area 2 and Area 1B. Annexation of those areas would take effect in 2024, if the remonstrance efforts are not successful.

Previously, it was not possible to merge the castle-shaped bit into the precinct to the south, Perry 23, because the southern boundary of the castle-shaped bit followed the state house representative district boundary. Precincts aren’t allowed to cross state legislative boundaries.

The redistricting completed by the state legislature this year makes it possible to contemplate merging the castle-shaped part of Perry 04 into Perry 23.

Generating some discussion among committee members on Thursday was the impact that the change would have on voters whose precinct would switch from Perry 04 to Perry 23. Would it mean a change to their polling location? Yes.

Most recently, they have voted at Southside Christian Church. The precinct change would mean switching their polling location to Jackson Creek Middle School.

On Thursday, committee member Hal Turner, who is also the Republican Party appointee to the county election board, pointed out the change in voting location. “I think it’s a problem we have to be aware of. Anytime we impact voters then that causes a potential loss of vote for whatever reason. We don’t want people to feel that we’re creating problems for them to vote.”

Turner asked county election supervisor Karen Wheeler to comment on the issue of changing voting locations. Wheeler said, “I would like to think that our voters are resilient enough to go along with what needs to be done in moving them—that’s my personal point of view.”

But Wheeler added, “I know the practical side is we are going to get [complaints]. And people will be confused.” Wheeler told the committee that impacted voters would be sent a postcard. Committee member Ed Robertson suggested that high school students could be recruited to place door-hangers at all the residences in the affected area.

A motion to move forward with the merger of the castle-shaped area of Perry 04 into Perry 23 got unanimous committee support on Thursday.

Committee members contemplated a look at combining other precincts, based on their relatively small active voter numbers. But on Thursday, the committee consensus appeared to be that there’s not adequate time this year to undertake a thorough review of those possibilities.

The committee is doing its work on a compressed timeline compared to previous years, because of the ripple effect of the late 2020 census. The late timing for release of 2020 census numbers led to a late start for state legislators on their work to redraw state-level boundaries.

It was not until Oct. 4 when Indiana governor Eric Holcomb signed off on the new state legislative districts.  The state-level redistricting work has to be completed before the local-level work can start.

The redistricting work on the local level has the same impetus as the state level process—the need to incorporate the results of the 2020 decennial census into voter districts for different elected offices.

The four appointees to the precinct and district boundary advisory committee are: Regina Moore, Ed Robertson, Joyce Poling, and Hal Turner.

Elected to the city of Bloomington clerkship as a Democrat, Moore served in that role from 2000 to 2015.

Robertson is deputy chair of headquarters for the Monroe County Democratic Party.

Poling is assistant to the chancellor for community engagement at Ivy Tech Community College. Poling served as a Republican through 2007 on the Monroe County board of commissioners, which wrapped up a couple of decades of service in county government.

Hal Turner is currently the Republican appointee to the county election board.

Data supporting the committee’s work is available on the committee’s web page as a spreadsheet of precincts and a dynamic mapping resource.