Letter to the Editor

Citizens can help make redistricting effort transparent

Thursday, September 1, 2016

To the Editor:

The United States Census Bureau is the principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American people and the economy. A new census is taken every 10 years and that data is used to redraw the congressional and legislative districts that must, by law, be roughly equal in population.

Sounds pretty straight forward except for the fact that gerrymandering is so strongly ingrained in the process. The political party that controls the General Assembly also controls the redistricting process. Both parties have used their majority control over the years to protect incumbents, and secure more seats for their party.

The effect on the public is reflected in low voter turnout because too many seats go uncontested and voters, not irrationally, see the system as being rigged.

During the 2015 legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1003 which created a Special Study Committee of legislators and citizens to spend 18 months studying redistricting commissions in other states and perhaps propose reform for Indiana. District 39 Rep. Jerry Torr (R) is chairman of this committee.

There have been three meetings at the Legislature attended by Greencastle League of Women Voters members and the special committee intends to have another meeting on Sept.19 before writing a proposal. A report will be presented by Dec. 1, 2016.

This is an outstanding opportunity for advocates of citizen-led redistricting to impact the process and lend bi-partisan support.

It is important for a diverse group of citizens, representative of Indiana voters, to be put in charge of a transparent redistricting process that seeks and facilitates citizen input. This group should also be given some clear statutory guidelines to follow to help them determine where the lines should fall.

Districts must be as equal in population as practical and respect the Voting Rights Act. Other criteria that should be considered include respect for communities of interest like cities, towns and neighborhoods, compactness, contiguity and political competition.

For an example of gerrymandering's impact on our local representation, after the last census, Greencastle City was split in half right down Washington Street. Half of us are in the 24th District and will be voting for either John Crane or Kevin Rogers while the other half live in District 37 and can only vote for Rod Bray as he has no competition.

Arizona, California, Iowa, Washington and a handful of other states have managed to reduce the influence of incumbent politicians on redistricting through reforming the system. Momentum for redistricting reform is building in Indiana. Over 150 citizens attended the last meeting in Indianapolis.

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens to create independent commissions. In its opinion, the court affirmed that "partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles." This decision protected independent citizen redistricting commissions that voters created in Arizona and California in addition to reforms in other states.

What can you do? Tell your legislator to support reform (Jim Baird, www.in.gov/h44). Watch "Gerrymandering: The Movie" at leaguelafayette.org Ask candidates questions about redistricting reform at our next Banner Graphic/LWV/DePauw debate on Oct 12. Write a letter to the editor.

Find out more about reform by contacting the groups leading the effort in Indiana, Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana. For more information about the Special Interim Committee on Redistricting go to https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2016/committees/redistricting_special_interim_stu...

Call Ann Newton at 653-3856 if you want to go to the next meeting on Sept 19.

Ann Newton