The city's redistricting debate looks like it will continue right up to the year-end deadline for completing the project.

City council members had a chance to vote on the ordinance during the third and final reading Tuesday, but chose rather to table the issue.

At issue is whether or not inmates at the Madison Correctional Facility should be factored into the redistricting.

The council is required to redistrict every 10 years, following the U.S. Census. The boundaries for the new districts were provided by FPBH Inc., a surveying company out of North Vernon.

One side of the argument, the side taken by councilmen Dick Jones and Jim Lee, is that state statute says redistricting has to include prisoners.

The way the statute is worded, the council would have to use numbers provided by the latest census in order to form new districts.

The 2010 census puts 717 people in the prison, juvenile facility and state hospital, all located on the hilltop.

Brad King, the Republican co-director of the Indiana Election Division, said he agrees with Jones and Lee. Based on the way the statute is written, he said he believes inmates must be included in the redistricting plans.

"I don't see any distinction in state law," King said.

King has previously contacted the city regarding its attempts to exclude prisoners from the redistricting counts. In an email to mayoral aide Bob Cooke, he said state law "significantly limits" the city council's authority during the redistricting process.

"State law does not authorize the city to disregard the population located within a prison as part of municipal redistricting. The General Assembly could have done that, but has chosen not to do so," he wrote.

However there are some arguments to be made for excluding the prisoners. The main reason is that districts would become unbalanced. District 3, which includes those facilities, would have 2,407 people under the new redistricting. Prisoners would make up almost 30 percent of the district.

During Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Rick Berry said a majority of the inmates at the facility do not live in Madison and could be counted in their residence county during the census.

Jan Davis, superintendent of the Madison Correctional Facility, said the average length of time an inmate spends at that facility is 2.5 years, which means most offenders could be out before the next census is completed.

Madison is modeling this decision after one that was made in Terre Haute, which is home to the Federal Corrections Complex. The Terre Haute Common Council voted not to include inmates in their redistricting plan.

King said Terre Haute is running its own risk on going forward with that decision. One difference is that Terre Haute is a maximum security facility, and inmates spend a longer time incarcerated.

Council members have contacted the Attorney General's office to determine if any lawsuits could be filed if prisoners were excluded, but have not heard back from his office.

Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Attorney General's office, could not comment on the issue, because it would violate the attorney-client privilege between the state's top lawyer and a governmental body.

The council has a state-imposed deadline of Dec. 31 to complete the redistricting. City attorney Joe Jenner said there can be no closed-door discussions by the council before a vote is taken.

Members will either have to simply have a vote at the next meeting, or have a discussion and schedule a special meeting for a later date.