Redistricting balance requires fairness, opposition

By Kelly Hawes

Democrats have been losing a lot of elections of late, and they’re complaining that congressional and legislative districts are drawn unfairly.

The Associated Press found some support for that argument in analyzing the results of the 2016 election.

The analysis found that Republicans won one more Indiana congressional seat and about five more Indiana House seats than they would have won if the lines had been drawn fairly.

I can hear the Republicans now: boo-hoo, they might say. The Democrats are complaining because the Republicans did exactly what the Democrats have always done when they were in power.

And they’d be right.

In fact, the AP analysis found the same partisan advantage for Democrats in states where they held the majority. They won seats that they probably shouldn’t have won simply because of the way the lines were drawn.

Honestly, though, when it comes to partisan redistricting, who wins and who loses isn’t what voters should be worried about. What they should really be asking is whether the election offers a fair fight. How many of the districts give candidates from both parties a decent shot at winning?

The fact is too few districts do.

More than a third of Indiana House races had no contest in 2016. Eighteen Republicans and 16 Democrats won election without a challenge. The districts were so unbalanced that the minority party didn’t even bother to field a candidate.

And there were even more seats where one party or the other won in a landslide.

To be honest, some of those lopsided contests are unavoidable. There are many parts of the state where one party always will have an advantage over the other.

Still, the goal of a nonpartisan redistricting effort would be to minimize those lopsided districts.

The more competitive the elections, the better qualified candidates those elections will attract. And the more likely an elected representative will face a real challenge in the fall, the more likely that representative will listen to both sides of an argument.

One-sided districts result in elections that are decided in the primary, and that produces candidates who never have to compromise. They can spend all of their time catering to the base of their parties, and they win more points by slamming the opposition than by searching for common ground.

Let me be clear about something. Having competitive districts does not mean the minority party will win more seats. It gives both sides a fair shot, and the winner will be decided on the merits, not based on who had the majority when the lines were drawn.

Indiana lawmakers will next approve new district lines in 2021 using results from the 2020 census.

Last year, a legislative study committee chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, a Carmel Republican, recommended that Indiana establish a bipartisan commission to draw those lines. The resulting bill never got out of committee.

Torr has promised to try again next year. Let’s hope he has more luck.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI newspapers. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com