Following a year of studying political boundaries in Indiana, four Indiana General Assembly bills seeking redistricting reform went nowhere last session. They never left the committees that received them.
That upsets those who favor redistricting reform as they take their message to the streets. On Monday, they will rally at the Statehouse in hopes of pushing for the dialogue to continue in the 2018 General Assembly.
The noon event, led by Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indianapolis, follows recent walks, nicknamed Gerrymander Meanders, in Bloomington and Evansville.
Tim Lanane, a Democrat from Anderson who is Senate minority leader, puts the blame on Republicans.
“In the Senate, it boils down to the Senate Republican caucus not wanting to relinquish the current power that they have to draw these lines,” said Lanane, who served on a committee studying redistricting and authored one of the bills.
“They say they’re doing a fine job of it right now, and there are other things besides gerrymandering that have led to the lopsided numbers in the Indiana General Assembly,” Lanane said.
Bipartisan panel urged
The Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, chaired by State Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, found that Hoosiers would be best served if a bipartisan commission drew the maps for the General Assembly to consider beginning after the 2020 census.
During committee hearings held in 2016, testimony indicated that in 2012, 54 percent of Indiana voters selected Democrat Barack Obama for president. In 2014, 10 Democrats and 40 Republicans were in the Indiana Senate. The Indiana House had 29 Democrats and 71 Republicans. Some redistricting reformers point to those numbers as an imbalance.
Last month, an Associated Press analysis indicated that partisan gerrymandering, has benefited the GOP in Congressional races. The AP analysis also found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country.
Currently, the Indiana Legislature conducts redistricting typically based on an advisory commission’s recommendations.
Three of the bills last session called for the creation of a commission to study redistricting in Indiana. Two versions, including one supported by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, were written as a result of recommendations from the Special Interim Committee on Redistricting.
Many Hoosiers seeking redistricting reform cite commissions in Iowa and California.
In Iowa, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency prepares Congressional and state legislative plans for the General Assembly, which votes on the plan without amendment.
Ed Cook, legal counsel for the Iowa Legislature testified before the Indiana committee.
Changes in Iowa came after the former legislature-led plan for establishing boundaries was declared unconstitutional. Reform made congressional and legislative districts nearly equal in population. For example, the ideal Senate district population in Iowa is 60,927; the ideal House district has about 30,000 residents.
In Iowa, Congressional districts can’t split counties. Legislative districts are to coincide with political subdivision boundaries; they must be square, rectangular or hexagonal, eliminating irregular shapes.
Perhaps most importantly, the districts aren’t to favor a political party, an incumbent or a member of Congress, according to testimony from Cook.
Indiana more diverse
But Iowa’s process may not fit Indiana, said Julia Vaughn, policy director and lobbyist for Common Cause Indiana. For one, the Hoosier state has a more diverse population.
“In urban cities and urban cores, you risk packing minority voters into single districts. When you do that, you violate the Federal Voting Rights Act,” she said.
She instead points to California, which has its California Citizens Redistricting Commission that won the top Harvard Public Engagement in Government Award last week. The commission includes five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who do not belong to either of the two dominant parties.
Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation noted that in 2010, none of the state’s incumbent members of Congress lost their elections; two years later, after the commission drew new district boundaries, nine seats became competitive.
“They managed to create a body that can truly be independent of the Legislature,” Vaughn said. “The idea is to provide some balance. ... We’re not going to have people who are nonpartisan because what would their motivation be in doing this?”
There have been outbreaks of support for change.
Last month, the Carmel City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a citizen-led commission to oversee changes in the state redistricting process.
But Sen. Lanane noted that reform will take a legislative push.
“It’s going to be difficult as long as Senate Republicans are opposed to it,” he said. “They’ve got the power to kill it until they’re convinced there’s a political price to that. We think it’s an issue that our candidates can run on next year.”