Peg Maginn, a Fort Wayne resident, is a volunteer with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.
“The system is broken” aptly describes the current method of redistricting in Indiana.
Redistricting is the process of drawing boundaries for voting districts for federal, state and local elections. This usually takes place every 10 years following the national census. The 435 U.S. congressional seats are divided among the states based on population, referred to as “reapportionment.” Indiana currently has nine congressional districts. Indiana General Assembly districts are drawn to create 50 and 100 districts for the state Senate and House, respectively.
The process used to draw these voting district boundaries is up to each state. A few use independent commissions to accomplish the task, while others use bipartisan commissions. In Indiana, these lines are drawn by the General Assembly. Our current system has resulted in increased gerrymandering, the partisan practice of drawing districts to benefit a particular party or candidate. Both Democrats and Republicans engage in gerrymandering. Simply put, gerrymandering allows the party in power to draw the maps. Thus, representatives get to pick their voters rather than the voters choosing their representatives.
There are many adverse effects of gerrymandering:
• It may divide up communities of interest unfairly, diminishing the voices of those voters.
• It reduces competition, which leads to “safe districts” that deprive voters of any real choice. In the 2014 election, 44 of 100 Indiana House candidates and 10 of 25 Indiana Senate candidates ran unopposed by the other major party.
• It discourages voting. When there is no competition, people feel that their vote doesn't count. In 2014, Indiana's voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest in the nation. That same year, a study from the University of Chicago found Indiana's House districts to be the “5th most gerrymandered in the nation” utilizing a new objective measurement of partisan gerrymandering called “the efficiency gap.”
• It creates an unfair electoral advantage for the majority party. In Indiana, “Republicans generally win 53-57 percent of the votes in state legislative races, but have drawn the maps with such surgical precision that they now find themselves in 71 to 80 percent of seats in the Indiana House and Senate, respectively,” John Krull wrote in an article published in the Lafayette Journal and Courier.
The difference between 1812, when the term gerrymandering was coined, and now is that we have increasingly powerful computer software programs available. These make it easy to quickly and precisely carve our population into various demographic groups, such as political party affiliation, socioeconomic status and race.
Last year, a bipartisan Interim Study Committee on Redistricting developed and recommended House Bill 1014, which outlined a plan to reform our redistricting system. Unfortunately, it did not get out of the Election Committee of the House in the 2017 session. This happened despite bipartisan support from groups such as the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, 15 different city and county councils throughout the state, and hundreds of citizens from throughout Indiana who traveled to the Statehouse to support this bill.
Good governing requires knowledge, reasoning and problem-solving skills, the ability to build consensus, and dedication to serving all citizens for the benefit of the common good. Competition should be embraced, not feared, because it is through competition that new ideas and innovation are fostered. Those who fear competition or seek office primarily to acquire power do not belong in this public service arena.
The League of Women Voters encourages all citizens to become actively engaged in the issue of redistricting reform. It is up to us – “we the people” – to convince our representatives to move Indiana forward through the establishment of an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. I encourage you to attend our upcoming presentation to learn more and become involved in specific activities that can help make this change happen. It is time for citizens to reclaim the ability to pick our legislators, rather than the other way around. Democracy functions effectively only when all voices are heard.