Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Redistricting disappoints again

April 16, 2011

If anything is clear from the latest round of drawing new lines for legislative and congressional districts, it’s that the system is still broken.

Republicans, who dominate both houses of the General Assembly, have rolled out proposals to redraw the lines following changes in the census. To no one’s surprise, the new districts favor incumbents from the party or bend districts into shapes likely to be won by Republicans in upcoming elections.

It isn’t as if Democrats can claim purity. During the last redistricting, in 2001, Democrats controlled the House and drew districts favoring their party. Republicans did the same in the Senate.

These ongoing breaches of voter trust point to the need for Indiana to move to an independent commission model like the ones used in California, Iowa and many other states.

The commissions are made up of citizens appointed to take the political considerations out of the process. Even in cases where the commissions draw the maps but legislators retain authority to approve them, politicians are reticent to tinker with commission recommendations.

A proposal by House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Jerry Torr of Carmel, both Republicans, to adopt the idea was short-circuited when Democrats bolted for Illinois. Democrat Vi Simpson has advocated the commission approach for years. This demonstration of bipartisan support means advocates of taking the process out of politicians’ hands should not give up.

As it stands, districts are seldom competitive, they aren’t compact, and they don’t take communities of interest into consideration. The upshot is an electorate demoralized by lack of solid choices.

Maybe it was Gov. Daniels’ threat to veto an overt run at gerrymandering, or maybe it was the progressive redistricting suggestions advanced by former Secretary of State Todd Rokita, but the proposed maps do reveal some restraint by House and Senate Republicans.

Party leaders could have drawn the maps to make legislative and congressional seats even harder for Democrats to win. As proposed, the districts would look a little more compact than the maps are today.

But the maps still protect too many Republicans, and they should be tweaked.

Marion County residents should be particularly concerned about how their proposed districts continue to be diluted by the addition of Republican-leaning bastions just outside the county.

It’s too late in the current redistricting process to expect legislators to take up the best long-term solution, an independent commission. But next year or shortly thereafter—long before the next census and the redistricting process it will trigger—legislators should act to remove themselves from the process.

The obvious conflict in allowing politicians to draw their own districts will be reason enough for some legislators to make the change. The others should remember that it’s in their self-interest to remove their opponents from the process once and for all.•

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