Op-Ed: The legislature fails to lead on redistricting reform
By Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson)
Word Count: 483
The 2018 session of the Indiana General Assembly will be remembered for its chaotic finish. But just as troubling were the numerous bills that died in the legislature well before the final day. This year, majority policymakers rejected all measures to expand voting rights, including those with bipartisan support. Bills were filed to make absentee voting easier, extend polling hours, allow all Indiana college students to use their IDs at the polls and to reform redistricting – the process of drawing legislative and congressional districts in the state. None of these measures passed the Indiana General Assembly.
I am especially disappointed that redistricting reform efforts once again failed. Currently, there are no standards that legislators must follow when drawing maps, which makes it easier for districts to be drawn with a partisan advantage. My colleagues and I have introduced bills and offered amendments to correct this practice for well over a decade. I had hoped the supermajority could come to an agreement and eliminate partisan redistricting after a 2016 bipartisan committee recommended that an independent commission draw the maps. Despite the committee’s recommendation, legislation has not advanced.
Last week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case to determine whether a congressional district in Maryland, which was drawn to give one political party a distinct advantage, is unconstitutional. Last year, the court heard a similar case based on whether the maps in Wisconsin had an unconstitutional level of partisan bias. It is clear that the Supreme Court recognizes that partisan gerrymandering is an issue. This exercise has disenfranchised voters for years by eliminating competitive districts and creating a system where politicians pick their voters instead of voters choosing their elected officials. Unfortunately, new map-making technology has taken this practice to levels never before seen.
My Republican colleagues have argued that we should wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in before making any changes to our redistricting statute. This approach is misguided. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, Indiana can strengthen its own laws to take bias out of the system and draw more representative maps. If the Supreme Court rules that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, we will have to implement redistricting reform anyway. If the Supreme Court rules that it is not unconstitutional, Hoosiers still expect legislators to act to ensure fairness in our elections.
Over this summer, I urge my fellow lawmakers and candidates for office to listen to their Hoosier constituents on this issue and be prepared to come back next year willing to take a serious look at removing politics from the redistricting process. In my own conversations with voters of both political parties, the momentum is on the side of those looking to change our current system and protect voting rights. These individuals expect their elected officials to do their job on a variety of issues, and this is one topic where the legislature continues to fail.