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By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

October 11, 2023

The lawsuit against city of Anderson Common Council and Madison County Board of Elections for failing to redraw the council districts by the end of 2022 is continuing after a federal judge denied the municipality’s request to toss the case.

In a five-page ruling issued last week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana rejected the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The council and election board had argued that the plaintiffs failed to show how the decision to not redistrict discriminated against minority voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“Here, Plaintiffs have, at minimum, plausibly alleged a malapportionment claim under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” Judge James Sweeney wrote. “So the Complaint suffices, even if it fails to plead a Voting Rights Act theory, and even if one of the remedies sought were improper.”

The plaintiffs have asked the court to bar the election board from using the current districts in an election and to oversee a redistricting plan. Also, the plaintiffs want the court to order the council members elected in 2022 to run in a 2024 special election once the districts have been redrawn.

The court didn’t say which one of the remedies it thought was improper.

The lawsuit was filed in June by Common Cause Indiana, the Anderson-Madison County NAACP Branch 3058, League of Women Voters of Indiana, and two city residents. The defendants are the city of Anderson Common Council and the Madison County Board of Elections.

“The ruling by a federal judge in Indianapolis to allow our malapportionment suit to continue was expected and should not be a surprise to the Council,” Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, said in an email. “Its motion to dismiss was almost frivolous and sought merely to delay.”

Neither the council’s attorney nor the attorneys hired to represent the city council and the election board responded to requests for comment.

“It’s not even clear the full Council properly authorized its filing,” Vaughn stated, referring to reporting by The Herald Bulletin that most of the council members were unaware a $50,000 retainer had been paid to a Chicago law firm to handle this case. According to court documents, the Chicago law firms of Laduzinsky & Associates and Henderson Parks are representing the council.

Vaughn continued, “We urge Council leadership to stop wasting precious taxpayer dollars and begin to work with us to craft a fair and politically-neutral new map that complies with the U.S. Constitution’s one-person, one-vote requirement, and that the federal judge who is presiding over this case can approve.”

State and local governments are required to redraw municipal, legislative and congressional districts every 10 years using the latest U.S. Census data. However, Anderson has skipped the redistricting process since 1980, creating districts with population counts that swing from 11,644 to 7,490.

The ideal population for each district is 9,130, according to the plaintiffs.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs argued the malapportioned districts violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Also, they asserted, the failure to redistrict violates Indiana Code sections 36-4-6-3(g)(1) and 3-5-10-7(a).

As part of their attempt to get the case dismissed, the defendants countered the plaintiffs failed to prove the use of the old maps in the May primary led to racial discrimination.

“No doubt, Plaintiffs claim that the voters’ votes in District 3 have been diluted,” the defendants argued, citing the most bloated city council district. “But Plaintiffs do not allege … that the alleged dilution resulted in the dilution of votes on the basis of race. If there is no discriminatory effect, then there cannot be, as a matter of law, a Section 2 violation.”

The court pointed out the plaintiffs had a low bar to clear in their initial pleading.

“Under federal notice pleading, a complaint need only set out some plausible allegation that, if true, allow for legal relief; the Complaint need not correctly identify a legal theory,” Sweeney wrote.

The court was also unpersuaded by the defendants’ other arguments for dismissal. The court found the plaintiffs were not time barred, even though they filed their lawsuit six months after the redistricting deadline has passed.

Also, the court did not agree that only candidates for the council seats could have brought this suit.

“The Court can find no electoral redistricting case in which candidates for office have been deemed required or indispensable parties,” Sweeney wrote. “The City cites to none, and the city bears the burden to show that the absent parties are required.”

The case is Common Cause Indiana, et al. v. City of Anderson Common Council and the Madison County Board of Elections, 1:23-cv-1022.

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and IndyStar.com, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal. 

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