The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Opinion

January 29, 2011

Guest column: District lines signal legislative corruption

ANDERSON, Ind. — Redistricting is the No. 1 form of corruption in Indiana’s legislature. Our senators and representatives soon will hack out a new map of election districts. They do this every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Once more, the interests of incumbents and the parties will outweigh the interests of Hoosiers.

The Constitution demands that districts contain reasonably equal numbers of people. Over time, some areas grow faster than others so the lines must be redrawn. In this redistricting process, minorities must not be denied representation by spreading them over several districts. Finally, a proper district represents identifiable geographic areas with a community of interest.

This last condition is hard to satisfy. The existing maps of the congressional, state Senate or House districts horribly ignore this mandate. Worse still, the results of recent elections vividly show how the Indiana General Assembly undermines democracy.

In 2008, one or the other of our two major parties refused to nominate a candidate for 32 of the 100 seats in the Statehouse. Yes, 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans triumphed because they had no significant opposition. (Minority or third parties accounted for only 4.3 percent of the total vote in these 32 districts.)

Only 11 of the remaining 68 seats were won in what politicians consider a competitive election (the winner gets less than 55 percent of the vote). Partisan redistricting suppresses competition and denies voters alternatives. There is no debate of state issues, no contrasting of party positions, and no development of a hometown point of view.

Voters turn their backs on participation when the major parties declare “no contest.” In the 16 races where the Democrats failed their responsibility to enter a candidate, the average total vote was 21,300; where the GOP surrendered without a challenger, the average total vote was 18,700. But where the two major parties did compete, the average total vote was 28,800.

That was 2008. In 2010, House Republicans anticipated winning yet failed to enter candidates in five elections. The Democrats, expecting losses, avoided races in 21 districts. These acts of “smart politics,” saving money for tight battles, have adverse consequences.

Abandoning the voters by not entering a candidate is political delinquency. The Indiana Democratic Party declared defeat without putting up a fight. Republicans would have done the same if circumstances were reversed.

Both parties want easy elections. They abuse redistricting to gain partisan objectives and protect incumbents, particularly the old horses who pulled the wagon for many years. Both parties want to slice the electorate into convenient chunks that guarantee as many partisan victories as possible.

Voters expect fair elections. Unbalanced districts, carefully drafted to ensure victory for one party or the other, deny Hoosiers valid choices. This year the electorate demands its rights be placed above the partisan welfare of legislators.

Our state senators and representatives deal the cards with which we all must play. Too often, however, they deal from the bottom of the deck.

Morton Marcus, former director of the Indiana Business Research Center, is an economist, speaker and writer in Indianapolis.

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