Missed opportunities on redistricting reform


South Bend Tribune

Earlier this month, Democrats in the Indiana Senate made a last-minute pitch for redistricting reform.

Expect that to go over as well as previous attempts at changing the way the state draws its legislative and congressional districts.

Under the current system, the legislature is responsible for drawing these districts. This has resulted in maps that make it easy for incumbents to get reelected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive. The real losers are the voters, whose role in the political process has been reduced. No wonder that the nonpartisan, nonprofit FairVote calls redistricting a “blood sport” that allows incumbent politicians to “choose their voters before the voters choose them.”

Over the years legislators (of both parties) have been loathe to change a system that gives them an advantage. During the 2019 session, Indiana lawmakers passed on another opportunity to establish an independent redistricting commission. Six bills addressing redistricting reform were filed; one narrowly passed the Indiana Senate but was never called for a hearing in the House.

Earlier this year, critics of how Hoosier lawmakers carve up congressional and legislative districts knew the clock was ticking on the opportunity to reform the process with the once-a-decade U.S. Census taking place. It was after the 2010 census, when Republicans gained complete control over redrawing the legislative and congressional maps, that they achieved a full supermajority command of the legislature.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, noted in an op-ed last year that if Hoosiers were going to get fair districts for Indiana in 2021, “voters are going to have to convince our legislators to pass redistricting reform legislation in 2020. “

That didn’t happen, of course.

Indiana sorely needs an independent commission to move redistricting out of the legislature, away from the political party in power. That clearly won’t happen before new maps for Congress and state legislature are drawn next year. Acknowledging that reality, the minority caucus has instead called for requiring standards by which the maps will be drawn — and for allowing the public to have input.

Both are reasonable suggestions. But given the legislature’s history of failing to act on redistricting reform, this will most likely be another missed opportunity to create a more open process that is fair to all Hoosiers.

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