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Karen Celestino-Horseman: It’s time to reform Indiana’s redistricting process

November 30, 2018

Celestino-HorsemanFinally, the elections are over, and I can return to cooking, posting dog photos on my Facebook page, and watching movies in front of my fireplace. And we now have time to turn our attention to addressing the problems this election highlighted.

Nationally, voters decided they did not like one party having complete control of the legislative and executive branches. The power will be shared by the two major political parties as the Democrats now hold the majority in the House of Representatives.

Here in Indiana, a problem remains. Our electoral districts are drawn to allow a single party to retain control of the Indiana House and Senate and congressional districts. For example, of the nine congressional districts, the chance of being represented by Republicans in seven of the nine districts ranges from 94 percent to more than 99 percent. In the two remaining districts, there is a 91 percent and 93 percent chance of a Democrat’s being elected. These latter two districts are drawn so as to contain the largest number of minority voters among the nine districts.

Going into the election, Republicans held 70 of the Indiana House’s 100 seats, compared with 30 for Democrats. In November, Democrats picked up additional House seats but still remain one member shy of breaking Republican control of a quorum.

Of the 50 members of the Indiana Senate, only nine were Democrats going into the election. Democrats won just one more seat this month, not enough to change the GOP supermajority.

In addition, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate captured 51 percent of the vote and incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly captured 45.1 percent. This shows Indiana voters are not all of one party, yet Republicans hold full control.

Republicans control our legislative branches, not because it is the will of the people but because of the way the districts have been drawn—not for the benefit of Hoosiers but for the benefit of the Republican Party.

It is small wonder that we lack the forward, out-of-the-box thinking that could transform Indiana from follower to leader. We continue to rank at the bottom when it comes to education, health, etc., and a large part of that is due to the fact that the same people keep coming up with the same ideas.

In 2015, the Indiana General Assembly created an independent study committee on redistricting reform. The committee recommended that districts be drawn not by the Republican-controlled Legislature but by a citizen-led redistricting commission that is not weighted to favor Republicans or Democrats.

In 2016, an interim legislative study committee recommended that the redistricting process be reformed. In 2017, the Republican chairman of the House Elections Committee refused to allow the committee to vote on a bill that would have created an independent redistricting commission. In 2018, the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to pass legislation to reform the redistricting process.

In actuality, it takes a lot more time, money and effort to gerrymander than it does to draw compact, organized districts. Computer software has made what was once a decennial Herculean task into one that can be accomplished swiftly and fairly without regard for the political partisanship of voters. A computer will not look to benefit one party or another unless it is instructed to do so and that instruction takes effort, time and money.

If the Legislature does not willingly take on the task of redistricting in a fair and even-handed manner for the benefit of Hoosiers and not individual turfdoms, the decision might have to be made by the courts. And I do not believe any branch of government wants to see that happen.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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Celestino-Horseman is an attorney and represents the Indiana Latino Democratic Caucus on the Democratic State Central Committee. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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