KENDALLVILLE — If you live east of Main Street in Kendallville, your city council representative may not be who the city’s district map says it is.
And it’s an issue that affects the only city council district that has a contested race this fall.
According to Kendallville’s City Council district map, District 3 is supposed to cover the area bounded generally by Main Street on the west, Wayne Street to the north, Iddings Street to the south and the area east of Bixler Lake south of the railroad tracks to the east.
That district is supposed to include voting precincts 20, 21 and 22.
This fall, District 3 has a contested race between Republican incumbent Amy Ballard, who is seeking her first full term after being caucused into the seat, and Democrat challenger Sachiko Janek.
But what’s been recently discovered by voters receiving early mail-in absentee ballots is that Precinct 20 — the area roughly between Main and Riley streets — is part of District 2, represented by unopposed Republican councilman Steve Clouse.
Kendallville last redistricted its council seats in 2011 after the decennial census and that’s when the error in the maps manifested.
According to a News Sun report from December 2011, the city had not redistricted after the 2000 census and the changes being made to the council boundaries were aimed at evening up the districts so that each had approximately 2,450 residents in them.
The most notable change at the time was that District 1, represented then and still today by Jim Dazey, would shrink due to residential development on the north side of the city that had given him far more constituents than other districts.
Back then, Dazey represented almost all of the area north of the railroad tracks, according to old maps provided by the City of Kendallville mayor’s office.
District 2, then held by Max Franklin, was absorbing most of the extra residents from Dazey as that district extended to take on northwest side of town and the area around U.S. 6 and S.R. 3 North.
But within those north side changes was one smaller change that was also part of the District 2 realignment.
The eastern border for District 2 was also supposed to move west of Main Street, with the area between Main and Riley streets transitioning into District 3.
That change never happened, although it’s not clear why.
The redistricting procedure in Indiana calls for any changes to be sent to the Noble County Clerk’s office, which then implements them and makes sure the right people get the right ballots in the future. The county clerk’s office is responsible for running all elections, even municipal elections.
In accordance with state law, Kendallville Clerk-Treasurer Sheryl Hanes sent a letter to the clerk’s office on Dec. 19, 2011, as notice that the city was redrawing its lines, with the note that she would forward the finalized ordinance once it was adopted.
City council members adopted the new district maps on third reading on Jan. 3, 2012, on a 5-0 vote.
What appears to have happened then is that the county recorded most of the district line changes between District 1 and District 2 as proposed by the city, but missed the transition in the area between Main and Riley streets.
Noble County Recorder Candy Myers, who was the county clerk at the time, said she couldn’t recall what happened with the redistricting since it happened about eight years ago.
Current Noble County Clerk Shelley Mawhorter said the changes were made before she took office in 2013 and that no one had noticed or raised the issue with Kendallville’s maps until recently.
“No one noticed it in 2015 and it was never brought to my attention. It was brought to my attention in late May or early June (this year),” Mawhorter said. “The primary was over and any actual changes have to be made prior to January, so no way to make a correction of any kind now.”
The issue won’t affect the eligibility any of the candidates in this fall’s election, as both Ballard and Janek live within Precinct 21. Former District 3 representative Frank Walkup, who preceded Ballard on the council, also resided in Precinct 21.
Mawhorter also raised a different issue that may be to blame, as the city’s ordinance says districts should not cross precinct lines.
“The actual ordinance states that the districts will not cross precinct lines and they do,” Mawhorter said.
That, however, wouldn’t explain the issue as to why only a portion of the districts were misappropriated.
District 2 was designed to be made up of precincts 17 and 19, while District 3 is supposed to be comprised of precincts 20, 21 and 22.
District 1 and District 4 are each comprised of only a single Kendallville precinct.
The city’s ordinance adopted in 2012 states precinct lines shouldn’t be crossed except in the following cases: If the new districts would contain more than one currently-elected member or if the new district would contain no currently elected representatives, or if not crossing the boundary would prevent the districts from having, as near as possible, equal population.
Considering the Kendallville took on redistricting at the time with the goal of creating equal districts, having two districts built out of multiple precincts seems to meet the criteria for that exception.
By Precinct 20 being included in District 2 instead of District 3, the opposite has happened, as the two districts are currently widely unequal.
According to voter registrations from the fall 2018 election, 1,254 registered voters live in the precincts that make up District 1; 1,879 in District 2; 926 in District 3; and 1,137 in District 4.
If Precinct 20 was actually part of District 3 as the city had originally intended, District 2 would have 1,398 voters and District 3 would have 1,406.
According to the county clerk, it’s now too late to fix the issue before the Nov. 5 election. Early voting starts in less than a week on Oct. 8.
The issue could be fixed following this year’s election, although the city will receive new Census data and may opt to draw altogether different lines ahead of the next municipal election in 2023.
“Kendallville will have to make adjustments to their ordinance to make this go. They now have until the ‘23 municipal to do so,” Mawhorter said.