A lot of folks have questions about the "Why" of the need for the reform. Common Cause has put out this handy guide:
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT REDISTRICTING REFORM
- Redistricting happens every ten years, after the federal census. Purpose is to equalize the population of Congressional and legislative districts + "one person, one vote" (1964 Baker v. Carr)
- In all states but six, state legislatures are in charge of redistricting
- In Indiana, the General Assembly draws the maps for Congress and the state legislature. The only requirements are equal population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act and contiguity
- In November 2016 a federal district court in Wisconsin found that state's House maps to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the 1st time maps have been outlawed for benefiting one party over another. Whitford v. Gill is being appealed to the SCOTUS.
Why it Matters
- Gerrymandering leads to uncompetitive districts and no competition leads to low voter turnout. In 2014, 44 out of 100 candidates for the Indiana House, and 10 of the 25 candidates for the state Senate had no opponents. Indiana's voter turnout rate of 28% was the lowest in the country.
- When districts are lopsided from a partisan perspective it creates polarization, with candidates appealing to the fringes, instead of the middle. Compromise becomes a dirty word, there is no reward for consensus building.
- Communities of interest, like cities and counties, school districts, neighborhoods and minority groups can be splintered by where the lines are drawn. This makes it difficult for them to make themselves heard, sometimes leading to their interests being ignored or under-served.
- It creates an unfair electoral advantage for the majority party. A 2014 study by the Univ. of Chicago found that Indiana's House districts are among the most gerrymandered. In 2012, Democratic candidates received a total of 999,219 votes, Republicans received 1,342,237 votes. If districts were fairly drawn, this would work out to Democrats holding 43% of the House districts, with Republicans holding a 57% majority. But with gerrymandering, Republicans held a 69% majority (which has climbed to 70% currently)
Solution? Take Redistricting Out of the Hands of Legislators
- The Special Interim Committee on Redistricting, a bipartisan panel of legislators and citizens recommended the General Assembly pass a law to create a 9 member redistricting commission. It's a step in the right direction but needs improvement in several key areas, including:
- Broader and More Independent Commission Selection Process. Eight of the nine Commission members would be appointed by the legislative leadership. We have concerns about how this process will promote independence and a commission that is representative of Hoosier voters.
- Secret Discussions. The draft would allow Commission members to have private, ex parte discussions with legislators and others directly impacted by the maps.
- Incumbent Protection for Senators. The draft says that incumbent Senators cannot be put in a district with another incumbent Senator. We believe that districts should be drawn in the public interest, not to protect incumbents.
A Better Approach
- The Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting has put forth a proposal that merges the best features from California and Iowa redistricting laws. A nine member commission composed of Republican, Democrats and voters who are neither R nor D would direct the redistricting process. Any qualified Hoosier could submit an application to serve and legislative leaders would select finalists from the public submissions but a random draw would determine commission members. Commission members must be ethnically, geographically and gender diverse.
- This group, representative of Hoosier voters would direct the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency in drawing the maps, using ranked statutory criteria.
- Map-drawing criteria must be ranked in order of importance. Equal population and respect for the Voting Rights Act must come first because of legal requirements. Contiguity, compactness and political competition should also be considered... There should be special consideration giving to identifying communities of interest and care should be taken to ensure that district lines do not divide communities or inhibit their ability to make their voices heard in political and legislative arenas.
- The redistricting process must be open and transparent, with opportunities for citizens to impact the map-drawing throughout. The public should have access to map-drawing software and all tools available to the official map drafters, so they will be able to submit their own map proposals to the Commission.