Low voter turnout may be result of redistricting

Don Knight | The Herald Bulletin State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, says redistricting probably made for an easier path for him to be elected, but it also meant less of a chance for two Democrats to be elected.

ANDERSON — After Indiana finished dead last in voter turnout in November's elections, lawmakers and concerned Hoosiers are trying to discover what might be causing voters to stay home. 

Some of them meeting Saturday in Anderson think Indiana's redistricting practices might have something to do with it.

The League of Women Voters held a community discussion  in the Anderson Public Library to talk about redistricting.

Julia Vaughn, with Common Cause Indiana, said she believes gerrymandered districts are playing a role in the low voter turnout because too many of the races in Indiana are completely noncompetitive.

Common Cause is working with lawmakers to enact an independent redistricting commission, something other states have put into practice. Vaughn said the commission would act as an independent arbiter in how  district lines are drawn.

"Letting lawmakers design their own districts is the ultimate conflict of interest," Vaughn said. "The politicians choose the voters instead of the other way around."

A large number of Indiana House and Senate elections in November featured races with only one candidate or extremely lopsided elections. In Madison County, Democrat Sen. Tim Lanane didn't have a Republican opponent and beat Libertarian Rob Jozwiak handily. Republican Sen. Doug Eckerty, running for the first time in his new district which includes most of Madison County, had no opponent.

Madison County did feature one of the few close races in the state as Democrat Melanie Wright squeaked out a win against incumbent Jack Lutz. For the most part though, the races were non-contests.

There was a time, not too long ago when Lanane, who was at Saturday's meeting, represented almost all of Madison County. But after redistricting in 2011, District 25 went from most of Madison to mostly just Anderson and Muncie.

Lanane said his district got less competitive with the new layout. Although that sounds good for him, he said with Anderson and Muncie now in one district, the opportunity for a second Democrat winning a seat from Muncie has been lost.

Because the GOP has super majorities in both the House and Senate, the party can essentially draw the districts however it wants as long as the populations are essentially the same size.

However, with low voter turnout and one-sided races, lawmakers are starting to look into making changes. House Bill 1003, which would appoint a study committee to look at a redistricting commission, was passed out of the House earlier this year. Lanane is the Senate sponsor and said he expects the bill to get passed if it gets a hearing.

Lanane admitted to a crowd of about 40 people there's a long way to go from possible study committee to an independent redistricting commission but said its good lawmakers are ready to take the first step.

"We're at least making progress," Lanane said. "It's farther than we've been before."

The next redistricting will take place in 2021 after the 2020 census. Lanane, Vaughn and others are hopeful something can be in place by then. 

Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB, or call 640-4847.

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