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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Bosma should convince GOP to create nonpartisan redistricting commission

When News-Sentinel.com joins the chorus of newspapers and news web sites across Indiana and the nation in encouraging voters to exercise their right to vote, it is with pride in our country’s freedom and our desire to keep it that we make such an admonition to an increasingly apathetic public.

The numbers of eligible Indiana voters who go to the polls in elections other than presidential or high-profile mid-terms are dismal.

Look at the Nov. 5 election in 2019, which was a municipal election — according to in.gov, only 23 percent of Indiana’s 4.5 million registered voters turned out throughout Indiana. And while the 2018 midterm turnout of 51 percent was decent in relative terms, only 20 percent of our registered voters went to the polls in the primary that year. Although 58 percent of Hoosier voters turned out for the presidential elections in both 2016 and 2012, only 38 percent and 22 percent respectively voted in those primaries. A 30 percent turnout for the 2014 mid-term election was preceded by a pathetic 13 percent turnout in the primary.

We think one reason for voter apathy is gerrymandering, the creative drawing of districts to benefit the party in power every 10 years after the U.S. Census. The next recount is this year, so new electoral maps will be due in 2021. Republicans are a supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly, so Democrats are hottest on changing the redistricting process. But historically, whatever party is in power takes advantage.

Legislators in both parties don’t want to relinquish their ability to gerrymander districts. Incumbent parties traditionally try to disenfranchise opposition voters by putting large numbers of them into a few districts to concentrate their votes and spreading them among multiple districts to dilute their influence.

We stated our position in editorials in March and July last year that gerrymandering fosters crippling divisiveness between political parties and apathy among voters and that state lawmakers need to enact reform.

An editorial in Sunday’s Terre Haute Tribune-Star pointed out that current Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) promised voters prior to the 2010 election that if they put Republicans in the majority in the House of Representatives at that time they would create a nonpartisan commission that would put redistricting in the hands of voters.

Well, the GOP took over, but redistricting reform didn’t happen.

Advocates of reform tried again in last year’s session of the General Assembly, asking for a 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.

Another bill was introduced that only dealt with one element of redistricting reform — the criteria used to draw the district maps. It did not address who is drawing the maps, but rather would have left the state legislators in charge of drawing their own districts. But that bill died in the House without a hearing.

We agree with the Tribune-Star as well as the representatives of the other 11 state newspapers that comprise the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Indiana Editorial Board in saying, “It’s time for the speaker to convince his colleagues to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission.”

As the CNHI editorial in the Tribune-Star pointed out, Bosma argued 10 years ago that “the maps drawn by the majority party were giving the voters fewer choices.”

He showed that in at least 80 of the 100 House districts, voters had no real choice and the election was effectively over before the first vote was cast. No wonder Hoosiers so often choose not to vote.

So we agree that Bosma, who announced in November that this would be his last session on the General Assembly, needs to make good on the promise he made a decade ago.

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