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Friday, October 02, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana's redistricting process under the microscope" Or not?

The new Indiana redistricting panel met yesterday morning. Niki Kelly's story in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette is headed "Legislators disagree whether redistricting is a problem." Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS - An effort to change Indiana's redistricting system got off to a rocky start Thursday as it became clear that not everyone agrees there is even a problem.

"This system has been manipulated in turn for the political benefit of both the Democratic and Republican parties – whichever attained majority rule each decennial election year," said Tom Sugar, a Democrat member of a special committee on redistricting. "It is a corruption as old as America itself, but it now must end here. Gerrymandering must be made illegal in Indiana.

But Republicans Rep. Kathy Richardson and Sen. Brandt Hershman defended the current set of district maps as being compact and keeping communities of interest together. They were both in leadership when the GOP drew them in 2011.

"My fear and my interest in the committee dialogue is we are making some assumptions bolstered with some political rhetoric," Hershman said. "I want to make sure we have the facts." * * *

Indiana has a constitutional provision requiring the legislature to approve maps. So a law could be crafted that would give a commission power to draw and recommend maps but give final approval to lawmakers. To remove the legislature from the process altogether would take a constitutional amendment. The earliest that long process could be finalized would be 2020.

“I will caution you there is a divergence of opinion on this issue,” said Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, who has pushed redistricting reform since 2006. He is chairing the panel.

He said it remains to be seen whether the group can come together on recommendations.

Torr said experts will be brought in to discuss a variety of related topics, and the bulk of the work will be done next summer.

Several members of the commission said having competitive districts is the most important issue at hand, noting the number of unopposed House and Senate districts in recent years and Indiana’s abysmal voter turnout statistics.

Former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm said the power of computers has allowed skewed districts that look regularly shaped and adhere to county lines “but nonetheless produce districts that are not competitive.”

But Torr pointed out that some people believe keeping communities together is more important than competitiveness.

Some of the details that could make any conclusion more difficult are:

• What powers would an independent redistricting commission have?

• Who would serve on the commission, who would appoint them, and how would political balance be maintained?

• What criteria will be emphasized or banned in drawing maps? For instance, some states don’t allow the addresses of incumbents to be taken into consideration, while others do.

"Indiana's redistricting process under the microscope" is the heading of Dan Carden's story in the NWI Times, which reports:
Could the route toward increasing the competitiveness of Indiana elections and boosting voter participation turn on reforming how legislative district boundaries are drawn?

A special 12-member study committee convened Thursday at the Statehouse to begin a two-year investigation into Indiana's redistricting process. * * *

Critics of legislative redistricting say [current] conditions provide lawmakers a significant opportunity to manipulate district lines in ways that advantage themselves or their political party.

For example, after the Republican-controlled Legislature drew new maps in 2011, the GOP grew its 60-member House majority to a 69-member supermajority in the 2012 elections. Republicans also gained a U.S. House seat in 2012.

Senate Republicans picked up three new members in the two election cycles following the 2011 redistricting and now control 40 of 50 Senate seats, or 80 percent.

"Hoosiers know better than to believe that 80 percent of our citizens share allegiance to one political party," said Tom Sugar, a committee member and former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. "Clearly, something is out of whack."

Sugar said both parties have gamed the redistricting process throughout U.S. history. He said ending that practice, known to many as gerrymandering, requires taking politics out of the system.

"Congressional and legislative districts should be drawn based on where people live, not how they vote," Sugar said. "An independent, citizen-led process must fairly and transparently design geographic constituencies and protect the promises of the Voting Rights Act, replacing the backroom deal making and self-serving politics of today."

However, actually deciding how to redraw districts and who should do it is an incredibly complex undertaking, as the committee learned in its review of the redistricting processes used by other states. * * *

The group is set to meet at least one more time ahead of the 2016 legislative session.

It plans to hold multiple meetings during 2016 to hear from national redistricting experts and solicit public input on possible reforms.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, pleaded with the committee to hold as many hearings as possible across the state to permit maximum Hoosier participation.

"There is intense public interest in this topic," Vaughn said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 2, 2015 08:05 AM
Posted to Indiana Government