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The House Elections Committee acted along party lines Monday to advance to the full chamber its plans for Indiana's new congressional and state legislative district boundaries.

The Republican-controlled panel voted 9-4 in favor of House Bill 1581 after making minor adjustments to the previously released redistricting maps.

The changes included adding two LaPorte County census blocks to the 1st Congressional District to ensure the population of the Northwest Indiana district is — like all nine of the state's U.S. House districts — within one person of the ideal population of 753,948 inhabitants per district.

"We have given a significant amount of time and attention to this process, as is appropriate," said state Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, the committee chairman. "These are as close as they possibly can be made (to the ideal population per district)."

Under the new maps, the 1st District will continue containing all of Lake and Porter counties, along with the northwest corner of LaPorte County, including the entire Lake Michigan shoreline.

Wesco and state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, sponsor of the redistricting plan, said they were listening at public hearings last month when Region residents urged the committee to ensure Northwest Indiana still has a dedicated voice in Washington, D.C. for its unique interests.

"The nine public hearings were very valuable. The public gave us some information of which we were not aware, and we took that into consideration," Steuerwald said. "The districts that we've done meet every state and federal requirement."

The Indiana House redistricting plan maintains 12 representatives for Northwest Indiana with approximately 67,855 residents per district.

However, several current districts are shifting slightly south to account for the population growing and shrinking in different Region communities over the past 10 years.

State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said while the changes to most Indiana House districts aren't dramatic, the maps remain "gerrymandered" in such a way that Republicans in most years will end up with 70 of the 100 House seats, despite the GOP vote share in statewide elections typically coming in only around 56%.

"These results thwart the will of the voters and give Republicans absolute power through an undeserved supermajority," Pierce said.

He said if the proposed maps are adopted without changes by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, and enacted by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, they will lead to more partisan division and make compromise on important issues more difficult until fairer maps are drawn, perhaps in 2031.

"Legislators and members of Congress are no longer concerned about independent swing voters in the general election," Pierce said. "Their path to victory is now in the primary alone, and that pushes elected officials to pander to only the most partisan voters."

The proposed remap of the 50 Indiana Senate districts is due to be released Tuesday. It then will be added to the House redistricting legislation on Wednesday, ahead of a final House vote on the plans scheduled for Thursday.

The Senate next week separately will evaluate and vote on the redistricting plans. But the Senate likely will not change the maps because that would require the House to return again to the Statehouse to consent to any Senate changes before the maps can advance to the governor.

By law, new legislative districts are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census to adjust for population shifts and ensure every district in the state contains approximately the same number of people.

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.

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