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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

GOP wimps out on redistricting again

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 05:01 am
It was just a few weeks ago when we were celebrating the possibility of politics finally being taken out of the Indiana redistricting process. Leading Republicans in both House and Senate were in favor of letting a citizens’ commission redraw voting district boundaries. Alas, it looks like majority Republicans have wimped out again. Rep. Milo Smith, chairman of the committee considering the bill, won’t even allow a vote on it. He says it’s because there isn’t time for amendments, and he has the backing of Republicans who say either that a change isn’t needed or that the change would be unconstitutional. That latter claim is of dubious merit. 

The Indiana Constitution merely empowers the legislature to redraw the legislative maps after the Census every 10 years, but it doesn’t really offer guidance on how to do it. So whichever party has been in power has drawn some exotic-looking districts designed to minimize the effect of opposition voters.

If the constitution permits the politicians to draw the boundaries, it permits the appointment of an independent commission to do the job. Its members would be charged with drawing boundaries that group people and territory together in logical ways.

The real, usually unspoken, reason the Republicans seem to be backing off is that they don’t want to give up the supermajorities they enjoy in both House and Senate; 82 percent of the Indiana Senate is now controlled by Republicans, as are 70 of the 100 seats in our the House.  Fairer districts would likely be more competitive districts.

But more competitive districts would also likely 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 that it is difficult 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.

The Census on which redistricting will be based is coming in 2020, so Indiana legislators have only three years to get their act together on this. We are less than enthusiastic about the possibility. 

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