Groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have been working for years to take politics out of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
In 2016, a bipartisan panel of legislators and citizens recommended the General Assembly pass a law to create a nine-member commission to complete the process.
The next year, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Jerry Torr sponsored legislation based on the committee’s recommendation, but the bill died in committee. A year later, a similar bill won overwhelming support in the Senate but couldn’t get a hearing in the House.
Such measures failed again in 2019 and 2020.
Finally, advocates decided to go it alone. If they couldn’t get the legislature to set up an independent commission, they decided, they’d do it themselves. The goal was to set an example for lawmakers to follow.
Thus, in January, after an application process that yielded nearly 300 candidates, the All IN for Democracy coalition formed an Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.
In the months since, that commission has conducted a series of public hearings, and it has submitted a list of recommendations based on the feedback it gathered.
The report calls on legislators to create an open process that encourages public participation.
At the top of the commission’s wish list is to establish more districts where both parties have a shot at winning. A lack of such districts, the commission said, was the leading complaint voiced by those participating in the various hearings.
Way too many of Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts are stacked in favor of one political party. That leads to elections that are effectively over in the primary, and it results in lawmakers who worry a lot more about the base than the average voter. Voters grow apathetic, and turnout suffers.
Reform advocates cite the example of 2014 when Indiana’s voter turnout was 28%, lowest in the nation. Part of the problem, perhaps, was that more than a third of candidates for the Indiana General Assembly that year had no opponent in the general election.
Surely, the maps this time around can be better.
The commission is now offering training on its mapping website, and it will be putting together mapping workshops in some urban communities. It’s also working to set up meetings with legislative leaders to discuss its recommendations.
In the end, the commission wants a process where the voters choose their representatives rather than the other way around.
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.