Locals Support Statewide Campaign To Change The Way Political Districts Are Drawn

Mar 11, 2016

A committee is evaluating whether state legislators or a citizen commission should draw the boundaries for political districts.
Credit Charlotte Tuggle / WBAA News

The Lafayette and West Lafayette city councils, and the Tippecanoe County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved a resolution urging a state legislative study committee to create a citizen-led commission to draw the political maps for the Indiana House and Senate, and the state’s nine Congressional districts.

League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette spokeswoman Patsy Hoyer says her group asked local elected leaders to weigh in on the issue, and support a statewide effort to shift redistricting decisions away from the legislators who benefit from those decisions.

“We are suggesting that they need to be drawn to be compact, and use other criteria, because the criteria besides population has been to be able to draw the lines so that a particular party will have the majority of votes in most districts,” she says.

Local Support

The all-Republican board of commissioners and the Democratic controlled city councils each voted unanimously in support of the resolution.

Lafayette Council President Ron Campbell says the redistricting system is too political.

“Whichever party is in power, they’re going to play the rules by their game, and it just doesn’t work out,” he says. “It doesn’t allow one vote for one citizen.”

West Lafayette Council President Peter Bunder says Indiana’s oddly-shaped districts led to Republican control of the House and Senate.  

“Most cities, whether they’re run by Democrats or Republicans, would rather have a state government that was more functional than the current state government,” he says.

“One of the ways to do that would be to have districts that are contested and move beyond a super majority that makes any sort of moderation in state government almost impossible.”

Bunder and Campbell say their position on the issue isn’t rooted in the fact that Democrats are the minority party in Indiana.

"Potent Political Tool"

It doesn’t matter which party is in control, say reform advocates from the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Indiana.

Common Cause Policy Director Julia Vaughn says the ability to draw districts is a potent political tool that can ensure control by one party, discourage competition on the ballot, squelch public debate and undermine accountability.

“Gerrymandering leads to uncompetitive districts, and there’s an awful lot of evidence that since the redistricting in 2011 the number of competitive districts have decreased,” she says.

“It’s really hard to get elected officials to listen to you if they are ensured reelection. And then it’s also tied to our dismal voter turnout rate.”

Question Of Need

But a local legislator who serves on the study committee says he can’t support redistricting reform until he sees evidence that voting is negatively impacted under the current system in which legislators draw their own district maps.

Republican State Senator Brandt Hershman, of Tippecanoe County, is vice chair of the study committee.

To date, Hershman says he’s only heard anecdotal stories about the need for redistricting reform.

He wants to evaluate the impact of existing political maps on communities, minority representation and other factors, and compare that to states that have and have not enacted reforms such as non-partisan redistricting commissions.

“I think that gives us a good data set to take a look at what their successes and failures have been and whether it truly makes a meaningful difference in the representation elected regardless of who draws the lines,” he says.

Vaughn says voters need to let Hershman know they want change.

“Given that he is the vice chair of the committee, he’s a big obstacle,” she says. “He’s going to have a big say on the committee."

State Republican Reception

Bunder doubts the opinions of local elected leaders will have much impact at the statehouse.

How will local input be received by Republican leaders who hold a super majority at the statehouse?

No problem, says House Speaker Brian Bosma. 

“They don’t have to lobby me,” he says. “I’ve been the champion of that for more than a decade, so it’s great to have others on board.”

Hershman, and Senate President Pro-Tem David Long say local input is welcome.

But Long deferred to the study committee -- which is tasked with answering questions such as whether the citizen-drawn maps would be binding -- on whether the legislature could modify the maps.  

“I mean there’s all kinds of formats out there, and that’s what this commission is looking at, so we’ll see,” he says. “But I have no problem with anybody giving us their opinion, their input on it. We want to hear from people on it.”

The legislative study committee is expected to meet after the General Assembly adjourns March 10.

The panel has until December 31 to evaluate other ideas and submit a recommendation to the full legislature.

For more information about redistricting in Indiana, go online to:

League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette, www.leagueLafayette.org

Common Cause Indiana, www.commoncause.org/states/indiana

Indiana state legislative committee, www.iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/committees/interim

National Conference of State Legislatures, www.ncsl.org/research/redistricting