Commissioners consider new maps: Officials accepting proposals for redistricting of 4 county council seats

Get your calculators and pencils out as the Brown County Commissioners are now accepting new district map proposals for four county council seats.

The commissioners decided earlier this month to look at the precincts that make up the county council districts after approving changes to the Washington Township precincts and Census data showed a population deviation gap between the districts with the highest and lowest populations.

At the Oct. 20 commissioners meeting an updated precinct map reflecting the three Washington precincts and a packet with information on redistricting guidelines was presented.

Physical copies of the maps and redistricting packet are also available in the county clerk’s office.

The plan was to post the new county precinct map and redistricting on county’s website this week, but as of Oct. 27 that has not yet been done.

All proposed maps are due back to the commissioners by Nov. 3. Maps can also be hand delivered to the commissioners at that meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Salmon Room at the County Office Building.

Maps can be submitted anonymously ahead of the meeting in a box in the Salmon Room marked “County Council Districts.” They can also be emailed to [email protected]

Indiana Code 36-2-3-4 states county council districts must: be compact and subject only to natural boundary lines, like railroads, major highways, creeks and parks; not cross precinct boundary lines; contain, as nearly as possible, equal population; and include whole townships, “except when a division is clearly necessary to accomplish redistricting under this section.”

The precinct boundaries must also touch that make up a district. State statute sets the number of county council members in counties with certain populations at seven with four being elected by district and three elected at-large by the entire county.

The school board and commissioner districts will also change due to the Washington Township reconfiguration. All county voters cast their vote in each of those races, but districts are used for school board and commissioner races to give interested candidates an assigned area to represent.

The new District 2 for both boards is likely to include all of Jackson Township and Washington 3 precincts. The new District 3 will be made up of Washington 1, Washington 2 and Van Buren precincts. But those changes will not be official until updated maps are submitted along with any changes to county council district boundaries before the next election, Clerk Kathy Smith said.

That Indiana Code also states that commissioners have a deadline of Dec. 31 to file their adopted ordinance to redraw or recertify the council and county commissioner districts to the county clerk.

The largest population gap for county council districts in 2021 is between District 1 and District 4 at 742 people.

Under the precinct map the commissioners presented on Oct. 20, District 4 would now be made up of Jackson 4, Washington 3 and Van Buren precincts. District 3 would include only Washington 1 and 2. District 2 would be made up of Hamblen 2, Jackson 1 and Jackson 3. District 1 would be made up of Hamblen 1, Hamblen 3 and Jackson 2.

County council districts are based on population and not the number of active voters. Precincts cannot be divided between two districts.

County council member Gary Huett is the District 1 council member. The 2021 population for District 1 was 3,548.

Art Knight is from District 4. That district population is 4,290 this year.

Darren Byrd represents District 2 and Dave Redding is the District 3 council member.

Commissioner Diana Biddle said the commissioners want to partner with the community to look at this issue by following the Indiana Code requirements and keeping the county council districts at the lowest possible deviation between the most and least populated districts.

According to IndianaLocalRedistricting.com, there was a population deviation gap as high as 19 percent in Brown County in 2011 between districts. That information is from research done by DePauw University in 2011 and 2012 “to provide citizens and government officials detailed information that is available nowhere else on the success or failure of local governments in Indiana to redistrict after the 2010 census,” the website states.

Earlier this month the county commissioners also approved reconfiguring Washington Township from four to three precincts.

In August, the Brown County Election Board recommended and the Brown County Commissioners approved reconfiguring all of Washington Township’s four voting precincts. The order establishing the new districts was approved on Oct. 13.

Washington Township includes voters who live inside the town limits of Nashville and voters who live outside town limits but still have Nashville postal addresses. This has caused some confusion in past elections.

The changes that will take place in 2022 and beyond are:

The four voting precincts in Washington Township will be condensed to three.

All in-town Nashville voters will be in Washington 2.

Out-of-town voters who used to be split between Washington 2 and Washington 3 will now be added to Washington 1.

The current Washington 4 will be renamed Washington 3.

The precinct change happened after Nashville Town Council decided to elect all of its members at-large from among in-town residents instead of requiring three of them to live in specific areas of Nashville.

The county now has 11 precincts to make up the four county council districts.

“What we are tasked with is looking at all of these combinations of 11 precincts to see if there is a way to combine any of those precincts in a different way to come up with less than 742 in a (population) difference because that’s where we’re at right now,” Biddle said.

“(The population deviation of) 742 is if we leave it essentially the same with little changes around Nashville, which is not very much.”

The packet the commissioners provided includes space for four different proposals. The 2010 Census numbers are also included for the districts as a reference, Biddle said.

“Certainly someone can actually figure out the eight or 10 actual combinations that are even possible. We could actually look at all of those,” she said.

“It’s not a complicated thing to do in our county because we have so few precincts.”

Members of the League of Women Voters Brown County attended the Oct. 20 commissioners meeting. Biddle said the commissioners want their input on the new maps.

“We’re learning too. I look at as it is important to get public input for people who live in different areas to see who they want to be grouped with,” said League President Shari Frank.

Any changes to the county council districts will be advertised in the newspaper and there will be a public comment period as well. Biddle said she also wants input on possible district line changes from the Democrat and Republican party chairs ahead of next month’s meeting.

The goal is to lay out all proposed maps and look them over during the Nov. 3 meeting.

“We will have to narrow it down. Maybe there are no options. Maybe what we have right now is best we’re going to get. I don’t know right now because I haven’t really dug into is there a way to do it that gives us a smaller deviation,” Biddle said.

“I can’t give you an exact idea, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is what it is.”