Lake County residents looking for something different to do over the Thanksgiving holiday might want to try their hand at drawing new district boundaries for the county council and county commissioners.
Every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, the districts for the county's three-member executive and seven-member legislative branches must be redrawn to account for population shifts and to ensure a nearly equal number of inhabitants are living in each type of district.
The census found Lake County remains the second-most populous in the Hoosier State with 498,700 inhabitants, an increase of 2,695, or 0.5%, compared to 2010.
But census data also show within the county residents generally are moving out of the northern cities of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary, and into growing communities toward the south, including St. John, Cedar Lake, Crown Point and Winfield.
Lake County is unique when it comes to redistricting because state law for decades has required the redistricting process be managed by the Indiana Election Commission based in Indianapolis, instead of by the county commissioners.
The four-member Indiana Election Commission, which formally is known as the Lake County Redistricting Commission when acting on Lake County issues, includes two Republicans and two Democrats.
At least three votes are needed for the commission to adopt a redistricting plan, which all but ensures the new maps won't unduly favor one political party over another relative to the popularity of each party within the county.
Currently, Democrats hold two county commissioner seats and Republicans have one. There are five Democrats and two Republicans serving on the Lake County Council.
Four state lawmakers also serve as nonvoting advisers to the commission: State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville; state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary; state Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute; and state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary.
To ensure Lake County residents have an opportunity to shape the new districts, the commission is inviting individuals or groups to submit their proposed redistricting maps for consideration alongside the maps expected to be submitted by the county's Democratic and Republican parties, among others.
All proposed maps must be submitted in an electronic format and accompanied by census population data. Submitters also may include a narrative explaining why the proposed districts were drawn as they were.
The necessary data can be obtaining by emailing the commission at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by contacting the Lake County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.
The submission deadline is 11 a.m. Nov. 29.
Following the deadline, all of the maps received by the commission will be posted under the "Election Commission" tab on the in.gov/sos/elections website for Lake County residents to review.
The commission then will meet at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point to hear public comment and discuss the proposed maps.
Any map submitted to the commission may be modified by the commission as part of the process of devising new council and commissioner districts.
The final versions of the new maps are scheduled to be unveiled and approved during a commission meeting set for 12:30 p.m. Region time Dec. 17 in room 233 of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.
The new maps will be in effect for all Lake County commissioner and council elections from 2022 through 2030.