Indiana lawmakers are busy with the current session, so they might have missed a federal court ruling of note: A three-judge federal panel has ordered North Carolina legislators to immediately redraw their state's congressional map, ruling it violates the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment and Article I of the Constitution.
There's a lesson here for Indiana legislators, who have resisted efforts to share redistricting responsibilities with an independent redistricting commission. Indiana's own maps haven't yet been challenged in court, but they clearly give partisan advantage to Republicans. In 2014, Republican candidates for the Indiana House won just 57 percent of the total vote, but won 70 percent of seats. In Congress, Indiana Republicans won seven of nine House seats with 61 percent of total ballots cast.
“With the decision in the North Carolina case, yet another court has decided that partisan gerrymandering goes beyond politics as usual and must be reined in,” said Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana, one of several groups pushing for redistricting reform. “They are taking this step because they realize the future of democracy is at stake. Let's hope Indiana legislators share these concerns and will take action to reform redistricting this year. If they don't, they should expect a legal challenge to new maps in 2021.”
Lawmakers had a vehicle to improve the process in Senate Bill 159, filed by Republicans John Ruckelshaus of Indianapolis and Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores. The bill was assigned to the Senate Elections Committee, but Chairman Greg Walker will instead focus redistricting efforts on SB 326. It's not as strong as SB 159, which would have established an independent commission, but it can serve as a vehicle to improve what currently allows lawmakers to choose their own voters, instead of voters choosing their representatives.
Don't believe it when you hear that redistricting reform won't make a difference. Yes, Republicans represent a majority of Indiana voters. But they don't hold the 70-percent-plus margins that election results suggest. In the last midterm election, top GOP vote-getter Suzanne Crouch won just less than 60 percent of all ballots cast in her race for state auditor. Yet, Republicans hold upwards of 70 percent of congressional and Statehouse district seats.
The results are critical. With a supermajority in both chambers, Republicans have total control of the legislative agenda. They also are less likely to serve as a check on a GOP administration, as is painfully clear in their reluctance to investigate problems in the Indiana Department of Child Services. If Democrats held just enough seats to break the supermajority, they would at least have an opportunity to affect the tone and direction of Indiana government.
Government works best with debate and compromise. Just look at the lackluster record of the current Congress with GOP control of both chambers and the White House. Competitive electoral contests temper the political extremes, moderating positions and making compromise necessary.
Contact your Statehouse representatives today and ask them to support a strong redistricting reform bill – one that will protect Indiana from a costly defense of gerrymandered districts.