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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Indiana Law - Political Gerrymandering in Indiana

The Indianapolis Star has an excellent and lengthy, front-page story this morning with this headline: "Drawn together: No more than 20 of Indiana's 100 House races will be competitive this fall, a reality politicians fuel by crafting districts that keep them in power and reduce voter turnout." Some quotes:

In many parts of Indiana, voters don't choose their lawmakers. The lawmakers choose their voters.

The result is a politically stacked deck, so safe for incumbents that members of both parties say only 15 to 20 of the 100 Indiana House elections will be competitive when voters go to the polls this fall. * * *

Here's how drawing those district lines works: After the national census every decade, state lawmakers draw new legislative district boundaries to reflect population changes -- and political considerations. The party in power controls the process, usually drawing the lines to protect incumbent members. That's done by adding to or subtracting from precincts to adjust the number of voters in a district for or against the controlling party.

In 2001, the Indiana House districts were redrawn by Democrats, who had the majority in the House of Representatives at the time of the 2000 census.

A Republican won the 86th District by a nearly 2-1 margin in the 2000 election. Two years later, after the district boundaries were redrawn to include more Democratic precincts from Indianapolis, Orentlicher won the seat. The tactic, which both parties have done when given the chance, produces a large number of "safe" districts. The result? Few surprises among the 100 Indiana House elections held every two years.

This year, 43 of the 100 House members have no major-party opposition. Of the remaining 57 facing opponents in November, most are in districts with such strong party majorities that they face little chance of losing.

To some, the creative map-drawing seems to negate the will of the voters.

In the last state legislative races two years ago, Republican House candidates received a total of 758,088 votes across the state -- far more than the 549,723 votes received by Democratic candidates.

Despite that showing -- winning 57 percent of the votes cast -- Republicans won 49 percent of the seats. Democrats had 41 percent of the vote but won 51 percent of the seats, maintaining control of the House.

The Republican-controlled Senate -- with different districts and boundaries -- was more balanced. In elections two years ago, GOP candidates got 61 percent of the vote statewide and won 60 percent (15 of 25) of the seats. Democrats got 37 percent of the vote and won about 40 percent of the seats (10) up for election. Libertarian candidates won 2 percent of the votes and no seats.

Another measure of lopsided districts in the House -- those with substantially more voters from one party -- is the collective margin of victory in those races. If many races are highly competitive, the total statewide votes between winners and losers should be close.

But in the 2002 House races, winners outpolled losers by 452,825 votes to 320,025. There were some close races, but on the whole, the winners, most of them incumbents, won by a margin of 18 percentage points.

The story ends with this:
Nonpartisan or politically balanced commissions draw district boundaries in Iowa and Illinois, but [James L. McDowell, a political science professor at Indiana State University, in Terre Haute] said he doubted that could happen in Indiana.

"I don't see the political parties, either one, giving up control of their destiny."

On 23rd the Star had an editorial titled "Blame gerrymandering for lack of competitive political races." That editorial ended with the Star stating "[V]oters can demand that they be given true choices on Election Day by insisting that legislators put an end to gerrymandering. Fair districts not only prompt more competition and higher turnout but also better government. Incumbents who actually have to work to win votes before Election Day are far more likely to listen and respond to constituents." But, as I concluded my Indiana Law Blog entry at the time: "But the Star does not explain how to get from here to there. The voters' ballots are their weapons, but carefully drawn districts have already blunted any real possibility of putting the voters back in control of elections."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 5, 2004 10:22 AM
Posted to Indiana Law