Legislature can’t be trusted to redistrict fairly

In the United States, 44 of 50 states have state legislatures in charge of drawing election maps. Is it any wonder, then, the maps are drawn to favor one party over another, depending on who is in power at the time of the Census, after which maps are redrawn?

The 2020 Census is a great opportunity to make wrongs right, and civic organizations around the country are pushing for impartial redistricting. This means using criteria other than protecting political interests and incumbents to redraw the maps.

“In 2012, Democratic U.S. House candidates won more (votes) than Republican candidates in both states (North Carolina and Pennsylvania) but won only nine of 31 seats. … In 2013, Republican candidates for the New Jersey assembly won 51 percent of the vote but only 32 (40 percent) of 80 seats.” (fairvote.org)

In essence, each of these states was gerrymandered to favor one political party over another. Indiana has one of the worst cases of gerrymandering reflected by the following:

In 2014, Republicans won 57 percent of the vote, but claimed 70 percent of General Assembly seats.

In 2014, 54 candidates ran unopposed in the General Assembly. Why field a candidate in a “safe” district if you’re guaranteed to be on the losing side of the equation?

In 2014, Indiana had the lowest voter turnout in the country, with only 28 percent showing up at the polls. Why? Disenfranchised voters don’t feel represented.

This information gives the lie to the argument that opposing candidates didn’t run a good-enough campaign or weren’t better qualified.

In some cases, this is undoubtedly true. But the systemic under-representation of one party makes clear that voters are not being fairly represented, especially since in Indiana 45 percent of registered voters are Democrat.

Currently, Senate Bill 326, relating to redistricting standards, has moved to the House for its initial reading there. It establishes redistricting standards for congressional and state legislative districts and, regrettably, allows ample interference by the General Assembly.

However, its amendments better the bill. The amendments:

  • Disallow drawing districts to protect incumbents
  • Disallow past election results for consideration in redistricting
  • Make sure the redistricting committee and commission reflects the geographic, minority and gender diversity of Indiana
  • Create three pools of potential candidates reflecting the two parties and independents
  • Allow randomization in choosing committee members from these pools

Disallow commission members who have been recent (last six years) candidates, congressional or general assembly members, state office holders, appointed public officials or employees of various legislative and governmental agencies

Give great authority to university presidents to appoint commission members.

Senate Bill 326 has the support of the Indiana Alliance, which advocates for transparency and fairness in the redistricting process. Call your representatives to express your support, too.

Even better, plan on attending the March 6 House of Representatives Open Meeting at NineStar Connect. Register through the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

If you question the urgency for redistricting, think about democracy as a shade tree. It should shelter all equally. But Indiana’s Democracy tree looks more like Shel Silverstein’s from the children’s book, The Giving Tree. Branches are lopped for one special interest and another, or one party over another. The tree loses its shape and branches until it is only a stump, incapable of shading anything.

Impartial redistricting is an opportunity to fertilize, prune, and water this tree.

The tree’s roots are held firm by healthy soil, provided courtesy of informed voters and citizen activists who make sure the soil composition doesn’t lean too far to acidity or too far to alkalinity.

The fruit of the tree is true representation of the voters, not the special interests, not the parties, but the citizens.

Donna Steele, a retired educator, hails from Alabama and made Hancock County her home in 2011. She can be reached at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.