THE NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Redistricting reform bill is at least a step in the right direction

You may not think redistricting reform is a big deal, but changing our current system would make your vote more likely to be meaningful in our state elections. Even so, reform has been difficult to initiate, and whether the latest proposal (Senate Bill 105) makes it through the current legislative session remains to be seen.

We hope it does.

Redistricting reform has been high on the agenda in the Indiana Legislature for years. The problem with the current system is that there are still too many legislators in both parties who do not want to relinquish their ability to use gerrymandering — the creative drawing of districts to benefit the party in power. Incumbent parties traditionally try to disenfranchise opposition voters by “packing” them (putting large numbers of them into a few districts to concentrate their votes) and “cracking” them (spreading them among multiple districts to dilute their influence).

Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census finds out how many people live in each state across the country. The next recount is in 2020, so new electoral maps will be due the following year.

Now is the time to make changes in how we do that in Indiana.

The current system of redistricting has resulted in maps that make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive.

Because of gerrymandering, the Republicans currently hold supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate, 40-10, and in the House of Representatives, 67-33. Those numbers don’t reflect the division between Republican and Democrat voters throughout the state, which is roughly 55 percent to 45 percent in favor of the GOP. The Democrat Party has also taken advantage of gerrymandering in the past.

We wrote prior to the 2018 legislative session that citizens needed to contact their legislators to make redistricting reform happen. It had failed the year before. And, sadly, it failed last year as well.

So what about this year? Advocates of reform had been seeking support for a redistricting commission of citizens to be in charge of drawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts. But a bill that would have created that commission failed to get out of committee in this session of the General Assembly.

So what’s left is an alternative — Senate Bill 105, sponsored by state Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, would, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, “require congressional and state legislative redistricting processes to consider how districts reflect minority voices and to minimize divisions in neighborhoods, public school corporations and other entities that would share common interests. It also forces legislators to publicly disclose any deviation from these standards.”

While it’s not ideal, in our view, SB 105 is at least a step in the right direction. But it is uncertain if it will survive. It has one month to get a hearing in the House.

As we wrote prior to last year’s legislative session, we believe fairer districts, composed of logical divisions, would likely be more competitive districts. More competitive districts could mean better voter turnout, which has been pathetically low for many years. How can voters get excited about an election if they know their votes won’t affect the outcome?

Gerrymandering fosters crippling divisiveness between political parties and apathy among voters. That’s why it is important to contact your legislators and urge them to get this system changed, if not once and for all, then at least this first step for now.