Friday, November 28, 2008

A Bold Republican Legislative Agenda: A Call for the Indiana General Assembly to End Gerrymandering

Probably no "good government" proposal falls on deaf ears more than ideas to eliminate the political gerrymandering of legislative districts after every decennial census. The strategy is that, by looking at past election results, the majority party can craft districts that maximize that party's political advantage by 1) putting as much of the minority party's vote in as few districts as possible creating districts they intend to lose by margins such as 20%-80%; and 2) spreading out the majority party vote as much as possible to create a larger number of close but safe seats, margins, for example, that favor they majority party candidate by 60% to 40%.

The practice, which both Democrats and Republican engage in, results in misshapen districts that wind around picking up the necessary votes to ensure one party or the other wins. It is a unpopular practice that deliberately deprives voters of competitive legislative elections.

Republicans in the Indiana House have borne the brunt of gerrymandering during the past two cycles as Democrat majorities have redrawn districts to ensure the party usually retained those majorities even though most Hoosier voters have cast ballots for Republicans during those two decades. Republicans, just a handful of seats short of a majority in the House, are going into the critical 2010 election that will decide which party has thee majority necessary to draw the districts. The issue is all but decided in the Indiana Senate, where Republicans have a commanding majority that will survive the 2010 election.

There is a way Republicans in the House can ensure the GOP captures a majority of House seats in 2010: come out in favor of a bold "good government" plan that includes eliminating political gerrymandering. The law proposed would turn over that responsibility over to another entity that would not be allowed to consider the political impact of drawing district lines. Here are things that could be considered:
  • Every district must be approximately equal in population
  • Districts must be contiguous; in other words each part of the district must be connected somehow
  • Districts must be drawn to be compact
  • Communities if at all possible shall be kept together
  • Voting rights rules regarding creating majority black and Hispanic districts must be followed.
  • The residence of particular legislators or candidates may not be considered in drawing the districts. Current legislators will be grandfathered in so that they do not have to strictly comply with the residency requirements as to the new districts.
A lot of good government types will object about a grandfathering provision exempting current legislators from strict compliance with the new districts created under the plan. While I would agree with those objections, the fact is that without the grandfathering mechanism the bill simply will not pass. Is it not better to get 90% of what you want and pass the bill, rather than insist on 100% and fail completely?

A question remains regarding the "who" would be drawing the new maps. I am very leery about swapping politics out in the open with the legislature with politics behind closed doors with a supposedly "independent" or "bipartisan" commission. Indiana appellate court judges although immersed in politics when appointed through our version of the Missouri Plan, are virtually free from politics after appointment. I would suggest that each panel of three Court of Appeals judges in each of the five districts appoint one member to serve on a five person Redistricting Commission to come up with the plan using the criteria noted above. Of course, that Commission may not consider politics in the crafting of their decisions. Once the plan is crafted, both the Democrats, or Republicans or private citizens can appeal the decision of the Commission to the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Supreme Court.

The idea of eliminating gerrymandering could be part of a bold "good government" agenda that helps the Republicans wrest back control of the Indiana House. It is something that should be considered during this legislative session.


Anonymous said...

They will never do it but it would be nice to be freed from the Carson forever district.

Paul K. Ogden said...

That might be the only way. Republicans had a big say in the drawing of the Carson district. They were trying to lump as many D's as they could into the district so they could win elsewhere. The Ds are actually more likely to split up the district if they can so they would win two districts as opposed to the one.

Even a reform plan would probably keep the Indy population together. One thing that hasn't helped is the flight of Republicans to donut counties from Marion County. It's rendered the 7th district non-cooperative.
Both the Ds and Rs probably would draw similar districts, especting

varangianguard said...

Sorry Paul, but handing this over to lawyers doesn't appeal to me very much.