The ability to draw their own districts so that they favor the party in power has long been an expectation and tradition for politicians in Indiana and elsewhere across the country.

Elections matter. When one party takes control of the legislative process by winning more seats than the opposing party, it has power to wield in a number of ways. One significant way is that the party in control during the legislative session following a U.S. Census can draw state and congressional maps that give it an advantage in upcoming elections.

It’s called gerrymandering. The advantage comes, for example, when a controlling party draws political boundaries in ways that maximize its voting blocs by packing opposing voters into a few tight districts while spreading out its friendly voters to other districts so that they have more impact on election totals. Creative map-drawing ultimately helps a party produce more favorable districts than unfavorable, even though an area might be evenly divided in terms of traditional voter preferences.

Although many in politics view the practice as unfair, others think that’s how it should be, even when a party chooses to use the power to reduce the influence of ethnic and racial communities as well as an opposing party.

There are ways to avoid the political mischief that goes into creating district maps and gives a party more power than it actually deserves.

Redistricting done by an independent commission that focuses on the principles of fairness and voter equality would be the most public-spirited approach. Unfortunately, too many politicians are unwilling to adhere to those principles when it means giving up some of the power with which they’ve become accustomed.

Indiana finds itself in that situation. While there is considerable bipartisan support for an independent redistricting commission, reaching a consensus on the details has been difficult. And with the Republican Party holding super majorities in the legislature as well the governor’s office, the GOP isn’t exactly a party willing to change something that could erode its lock on state politics.

Gerrymandering goes on in almost every state. Both Republicans and Democrats do it, although the GOP has mastered the practice and turned it into a national strategy to control political power even though it doesn’t necessarily have the majority support of voting Americans.

Federal courts stepped in to strike down a number of extreme instances of gerrymandering in several states. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to uphold lower court decisions, ruling 5-4 that states have the right to map districts as they see fit and challenges to gerrymandering are problems for the states to decide.

The only remedy now is for voters to step in and demand changes that restore fairness in elections. The extreme instances of gerrymandering that demonstrate gross unfairness should be challenged by fair-minded politicians and voters. The practice won’t change until voters demand that it change. It needs to be an issue in every campaign, and voters need to know where their elected legislative and state officials stand on ensuring representation is determined fairly and independently.

Today, the politicians have control and can choose their voters. That process needs to be reversed so that voters are in control.
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