Three more years to find better way for redistricting Let’s take out the politics and put it in the hands of Hoosier citizens.
One of the biggest disappointments of the most recent session of the General Assembly was legislators’ failure to get a redistricting reform bill through, despite its widespread bipartisan support. Say thank you to state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, the committee chairman who wouldn’t even call for a vote on the measure.
Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census tallies up how many people live in the state and country, with the next recount due in 2020. Traditionally, the party in power draws the new lines, with the goal of keeping its incumbents in and the opposing party out.
A bill to take politics out of the process and turn the redistricting over to a citizens committee was prepared after two years of study. It had the strong support of some of the biggest Republicans in power, including Gov. Eric Holcomb, Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma.
But there are still Republicans who don’t want to give up their ability to gerrymander – draw those strange-looking districts guaranteed to ensure foolproof GOP districts – and they obviously had Smith’s ear.
Hoosier voters are the big losers here. Gerrymandering is a big reason Republicans have supermajorities in both House and Senate; 82 percent of the Senate is now controlled by Republicans, as are 70 of the 100 seats in the House. Fairer districts, composed of logical divisions, would likely be more competitive districts.
And more competitive districts would also mean more voter turnout, which has been pathetically low for so many years. Voters are less enthusiastic when they know their votes won’t affect the outcome.
We understand it is hard for politicians to give up something that’s been working so well for them, but strong sentiment has been building for a new system. Two dozen states have attacked gerrymandering head-on. Eleven have set up independent redistricting commissions or other politically neutral mechanisms.
Legislative leaders have only three years before the next Census to get their act together on this. Perhaps in the coming short session, without the need to devise a two-year budget distracting them, they can get it done.
The best way to get it done is for voters to get legislators’ attention. So, if you want fairer districts, let them know. And you should start with Mr. Smith.