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11/17/2018 5:54:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Time to get politics out of redistricting

Kelly Hawes, Herald Bulletin CNHI News Indiana Columnist

John Zody is right when he says the Indiana Democratic Party isn’t getting a fair shot in legislative and congressional elections.

Take, for example, the state’s nine congressional districts.

Democrats in the latest election collected about 44 percent of the more than 2.2 million votes cast for congressional candidates, but the party won only two of the nine races.

So, yes, the deck is stacked against the Democrats, both for Congress and for the Indiana General Assembly.

Still, Zody, the state Democratic Party chairman, isn’t the right guy to be making this argument. Republicans have supermajorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, so a pitch from Zody isn’t likely to find many allies at the Statehouse.

And let’s be honest. Indiana Democrats aren’t exactly blameless in this scenario. Sure the Republicans did everything they could to make sure as many Republicans as possible got elected to congressional and legislative seats, but it’s not like the Democrats haven’t done the same thing when they had the chance.

That’s what politicians do.

So, no, a party chairman isn’t the right person to make this argument. The person to make this argument is you, the Indiana voter. It’s you, after all, who has the most to gain, and the most to lose.

The average winner in the latest congressional election had 65 percent of the vote. That means the losing candidate had no real shot at victory.

The election was effectively over in the primary. Whoever won that contest had smooth sailing the rest of the way.

Let’s say we have a district that is 65 percent Republican and that district had a primary with three candidates seeking the nomination. Let’s say one of those candidates won the nomination with 50 percent of the vote.

That’s roughly a third of the district’s electorate choosing the candidate who will go on to win the general election in a landslide.

And here’s the real problem: That hypothetical candidate will never have to answer to the minority party’s voters. Those voters effectively become irrelevant. Their issues don’t matter.

Neither do the issues of those folks who find themselves in the middle, the independents. They find themselves represented by someone who has no incentive to worry about their votes. Such candidates need worry only about those voters who can make or break them in the primary, their party’s base.

That doesn’t happen with competitive districts. In competitive districts, candidates fight it out in the primary, but the winners then have to move to a general election where they find themselves trying to court those independent voters.

They also remember those voters when they get to Washington or Indianapolis. Such candidates become much less partisan and much more willing to reach across the aisle.

Let me be clear. Not every district can be like that.

There will always be safe Republican seats and safe Democratic seats. It’s impossible to draw a map where every seat is a toss-up, where every election is competitive.

But we can come closer than we have so far.

To start, we can take the redistricting process out of the hands of politicians and give it to a citizenled redistricting commission that will answer to voters, not politicians.

Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana are part of a bipartisan coalition calling for just such a change. They’ve been campaigning for this change for years, and they’ll be pushing for it again next year.

The next redistricting effort will come in 2021, immediately after the next census. If we want to change this process, time is running out.

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