News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 13, 2013

Federal suit claims County Commissioners failed to redistrict four election districts for County Council

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal civil lawsuit alleging Vigo County Commissioners failed to redistrict four election districts of the Vigo County Council.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana by the ACLU on behalf of county resident Sharon Russell. The lawsuit alleges commissioners “failed to comply with their statutory obligation of redistricting following the 2010 Census and, as a result, county council districts are not nearly equal in size.”

“The gross disparity in electoral apportionment not only violates Indiana law, but also violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit states.

Kenneth J. Falk, attorney for the ACLU who filed the lawsuit, said the County Council districts were not redistricted. “The [Terre Haute] City Council did, but not the commissioners for the County Council,”  Falk said.

Commissioners Judith Anderson, Brad Anderson and MIke Ciolli each said they had just received a copy of the lawsuit Tuesday and had no comment. However, Ciolli contended that commissioners did redistrict the council districts.

County Attorney Michael Wright said he is reviewing the lawsuit, but declined further comment.

The Vigo County Council has seven members, three of whom are elected at-large. The remaining four are elected by district.

The lawsuit states that based on 2010 census populations, District 1 has a population of 28,699; District 2, 22,548; District 3, 25,105; and District 4, 31,478.

District 4 contains the Federal Correctional Complex that, based on the 2010 Census, has 3,251 prisoners.

The lawsuit states that the total deviation from the average population of the four districts is 33 percent, when including the federal prisoners. Excluding the prisoners, the total deviation is 23.5 percent.

“The Supreme Court has said that anything above 10 percent [population deviation] is presumptively unconstitutional,” Falk said. Russell, the plaintiff, “lives in a district that is disproportionately large compared to one of the smaller [County Council] districts, so her vote is diluted in comparison to some other voters,” Falk said.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering commissioners to reapportion the voting districts for the County Council. It also seeks to have the county pay all costs of the plaintiff and attorney fees.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@