Thanks the hard work of activists like you, a bill to establish an independent redistricting commission has passed the lower chamber of our state house. One problem: legislative leadership still gets to appoint the commission, which leaves the door open to the same old cronyism, corruption, and gerrymandering. That makes our challenge two-fold. First, we need to ask Sen. Joe Zakas, who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, to give HB1032 a fair hearing. Then, reach out to your own representative, and ask them to demand a redistricting process that puts citizens first.
Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission
In 2011, the Indiana General Assembly will draw new maps for all 100 state House districts, 50 state Senate districts and 9 U.S. congressional districts. In the past this process has been extremely partisan and contentious and we expect the 2011 round of redistricting to follow suit.
The current process for redistricting allows politicians whose jobs and political power are determined by where the district lines are drawn to control the process. Instead of competitive districts, the motivation for the map makers is safe districts that protect members of the majority party on Election Day. In effect, legislators are allowed to choose their voters, instead of voters choosing their legislators.
Several proposals for redistricting reform were debated during the 2010 Indiana General Assembly, including a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission. Unfortunately, these proposals did not become law.
While it may be too late to reform the redistricting law before the 2011 reapportionment, Common Cause/Indiana, the Downs Center for Politics at IPFW, the League of Women Voters of Indiana and AARP Indiana plan to offer an alternative process next year that will shine a light on the General Assembly's gerrymandering and offer a public interest alternative to the partisan maps they will produce.
The four groups will form a "citizens redistricting commission" composed of citizens who are representative of Indiana voters. The commission will be chaired by two former legislators, Democrat Dave Crooks and Republican Bill Ruppel. Using software that is publicly available and ranked criteria, the commission will draw new maps based on community input and the values of competition and fairness instead of incumbent protection and partisan advantage. The commission will also sponsor a contest for Indiana political science students and interested citizens to draw maps and submit them for consideration as well.
While the commission's maps will have no binding legal effect, we believe they will have a positive impact on the redistricting process in several ways.
First, the commission will offer a striking contrast to the official redistricting process. The commission's maps will be compared with those drawn by the legislature and will be useful in calling attention to those districts that are drawn for partisan and/or incumbent advantage. These comparisons will provide a way to pressure politicians to put their self interest aside and instead draw districts without obvious gerrymandering.
Secondly, the existence of alternative maps will help the courts in any lawsuits that might be filed following the partisan redistricting process. Courts will be better able to identify problems in a redistricting scheme if a nonpartisan model exists to serve as a benchmark of fairness.
Lastly, the commission will demonstrate to both legislators and the public how a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission would work. Such real world experience will help build momentum for the passage of real redistricting reform, which is long overdue in Indiana.
For more information about how you can participate in the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission contact Julia Vaughn.