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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, November 01, 2017 1:00 am

Fair representation

Help lawmakers see need to prioritize redistricting

Leigh E. Morris

Leigh E. Morris is former mayor of LaPorte.

Periodic redistricting is a key element of helping to assure equity and vitality in our electoral process. Every 10 years, after completion of our decennial U.S. Census, boundaries for electoral and political districts are realigned. That process is called redistricting. The purpose is to equalize the number of people in each district to uphold our constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.” The Indiana General Assembly is in charge of redistricting for both congressional and state legislative seats.

The concept of redistricting is simple and clear, but the execution of it is not. There is a long-standing practice that many believe has undermined the logic and equity of redistricting. It's called gerrymandering, a process by which the political party in power gains special advantage over the opposition party by manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to create partisan, incumbent-protected districts.

In 2015, the Indiana General Assembly created a study committee of legislators and citizens to spend 15 months studying how other states handle redistricting and to propose reforms. The League of Women Voters in Indiana and Common Cause Indiana formed a coalition to support the effort. Earlier this year, the study committee issued its recommendations. It supported establishment of a nine-member, bipartisan redistricting commission, with the members appointed by the legislative leadership. Recommendations of the commission would require an affirmative vote of at least six of the nine members and would be subject to approval by the General Assembly.

The study committee's recommendations were incorporated in House Bill 1014; a hearing by the Elections and Apportionment Committee took place on Feb. 15. More than 300 people attended, and there was 90 minutes of testimony, all in favor of reform, except for one lone individual who testified in support of the status quo. Incredibly, the committee chairman refused to call for a vote and the bill died.

As plans for the General Assembly are developed, it seems imperative a way is found to gain support for nonpartisan, citizen-led redistricting along the lines of the proposal by the study committee. Here's why:

1. The Indiana Bicentennial Visioning Project, led by the distinguished bipartisan team of former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and former Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann listed redistricting reform as one of our state's top policy priorities because of its negative effect on competitive elections.

2. In the 2014 election, 44 of the 100 seats in the Indiana House were uncontested in the general election. That same year, Indiana had the lowest voter turnout in the country.

3. Landslide elections, where one party gets 60 percent or more of the vote, are frequently the result of districts drawn to favor one party or the other, making the votes cast for the opposing party meaningless or “wasted.”

4. A 2014 study published by the University of Chicago Law Review found Indiana's state House districts to be the fifth-most partisan districts in the country when the “efficiency gap” is applied. The efficiency gap is a new objective standard that can be used to measure partisan gerrymandering – it is the linchpin in the Wisconsin gerrymandering litigation currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

If you agree with the need for redistricting reform, contact your representatives in the  General Assembly and let them know that the 2021 redistricting should not be gerrymandered as it has been in the past (by both political parties). Adopting an approach such as the study committee recommended will be a huge step forward in assuring there is fair and honest redistricting that is in the best interests of all Hoosiers, not just one political party or those already in office.