The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided an independent commission in Arizona may determine election district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats. This puts Arizona among the few states limiting the power of legislators to control the election process.
Despite this critical decision, we did not feel the Earth move in Indiana.
Although the 2015 General Assembly created an Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, the prevailing Hoosier view is legislators will not give up their power to decide where boundaries are drawn. While a study committee gives opponents of the current corrupt system a chance to vent, one of the best ways to bury an issue is to assign it to such a committee. Note: No meetings of the study committee are scheduled at this time.
Indiana’s Republican-dominated General Assembly drew the lines of our congressional and legislative seats to maximize the number of Republicans elected. If they were in the majority, Democrats would do the same. It’s the way the parties play the game.
But it is no game. Hoosiers depend on their elected representatives to shape tax, expenditure and social policies. These in turn determine the nature and quality of public services which drive our economy.
The 2014 election of Indiana’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives shows how the playing field lies today.
Although each congressional seat is supposed to represent approximately the same number of people, 60 percent more people voted in Marlin Stutzman’s 3rd District in northeast Indiana than in André Carson’s 7th District in Indianapolis.
Indiana has nine seats in the House. Seven are held by Republicans and two by Democrats. Thus the dominant party in the state legislature (the Republicans) got 77 percent of Indiana’s delegation. They achieved this with just 58 percent of the vote.
Many practitioners of politics believe a victory by more than 55 percent of the vote cast is a landslide. By that definition only Carson failed to make the Earth move; he won by a measly 54.7 percent. All the other victors exceeded 55 percent; five of them topped 60 percent, led by Todd Rokita’s 67 percent in the 4th District. Such major landslides are the evidence of noncompetitive elections.
It is easy to say Hoosiers preferred Republicans to Democrats in 2014. But to win 77 percent of the seats with 58 percent of the vote shows the field is slanted toward Republicans and our elections are not competitive.
Perhaps the Democrats, seeing how the district boundaries are drawn against them, meekly failed to put up strong candidates or gave them inadequate support to make a sincere winning effort. Similarly, in the 1st and 7th districts, Republicans, anticipating defeat, responded with weak campaigns.
What’s to be done? Interested citizens need to make candidates for public office aware of their discontent with the current gerrymandering system. They must inform themselves about how other states handle this problem and then get bills passed for an independent commission to redraw our congressional and legislative districts after the next census in 2020.
That’s just tomorrow in legislative time.
Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.