Nonpartisan redistricting needs push from public, not politicians

Oct. 1 was a beautifully bright day in the Capital City. At the Statehouse, the Interim Study Committee on Redistricting conducted its first meeting. Thus began a process likely to determine the services, taxes and regulations for every business and household in the state.

As expected some elected members of the committee questioned the need for changing the way congressional and legislative districts in Indiana are drawn. That makes sense since it is the self-perpetuating General Assembly that benefits from the current system in which the party in power (whichever party that is) draws the lines every 10 years after the federal Census.

Likewise, it was to be expected that the public members of the committee stressed the need to re-examine the current system, which results in low voter turnout when there is little competition in Hoosier elections. For instance, 44 of the 50 State senators in the 2014 General Assembly won by landslides in excess of 55 percent of the votes.

Both sides called for facts. But facts are of little consequence when we disagree on the interpretation of those facts. The temperature is reading 40. Dad says it’s cold, wear a jacket. The kid says it’s not cold; no jacket or sweater is needed.

What do we want from elections? Some people, particularly elected people, and the people who support and are, in turn, supported by them, want to win.

Others want an election to be a contest, not between parties or personalities, but a referendum on ideas represented by those parties and personalities. Winning this year is desired, but establishing ideas in the minds of citizens is the long-term goal. That’s how, in the 1960s, John Kennedy and Barry Goldwater shook up conventional politics.

Indiana voters, in 2014, turned out in record low numbers when half the members of our House of Representatives ran unopposed. When political parties decide they cannot win and do not put forth candidates to establish ideas, they lose — this year and into the next decade.

When election districts are drawn to give one party overwhelming odds to win, voters will be less inclined to appear at the polls. But is that thought supported by the data? Are persistently weak turnouts destructive to democracy? These questions may be beyond reasonable expectations for the Legislative Services Agency (which provides support to the committee) to offer definitive answers.

As I talked about these matters in several counties during the past week, I found great interest among members of the public. However, there is overwhelming skepticism about politicians yielding any part of their power over the redistricting process to a nonpartisan commission.

If Hoosiers are to achieve nonpartisan redistricting throughout the state, they must overcome the sloth induced by skepticism and become active supporters of change. If a more responsive legislature is important to you, open discussions about nonpartisan redistricting with your neighbors and legislators. And contact the Interim Study Commission, Indiana Common Cause or the League of Women Voters with your thoughts.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker. Send comments to dr-editori