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2/2/2019 10:46:00 AM
COMMENTARY: Time running short for Indiana redistricting reform

Kelly Hawes, Herald Bulletin CNHI News Indiana Columnist

Julia Vaughn is feeling the pressure in the campaign to reform Indiana’s redistricting process.

“The clock is definitely ticking,” she said.

Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, has been among those working to win support for a bill to establish a citizen-led redistricting process ahead of next year’s census. Folks like Vaughn would like to get the measure passed this year so they can spend 2020 putting together the commission and getting things in place for the redistricting effort in 2021. 

This once-a-decade process is designed to balance the population of each district. It is not intended to engineer a supermajority for one party.

Still, though the reform effort has bipartisan support, it does not have the support of a majority of Republicans in the Indiana House of Representatives.

“We have built a coalition that includes tens of thousands of Hoosiers, but we have not been able to get a full and fair debate by our elected representatives,” Vaughn said.

One problem, she said, is that much of the discussion has been taking place in caucus meetings.

“Those meetings happen behind closed doors, outside the view of the public,” Vaughn said.

This should not be a partisan issue. The idea behind the reform effort is to produce districts that will represent Indiana in all of its diversity.

For now, reform efforts are focused on Senate Bill 105, a measure that would establish criteria lawmakers would be required to use in drawing districts.

“That’s not the bill we wanted, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Vaughn said. “We basically just need a line that says no district will be drawn to favor or disfavor a political party.”

Too many districts now are drawn in such a way as to guarantee the seat to one party or the other. That’s great for incumbents, not so great for our representative form of government.

The measure that would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission is Senate Bill 91, but that measure has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Senate Bill 105 is similar to a measure that passed the Senate a year ago, and Vaughn is confident it will do so again. The problem is in the House, where the bill can’t seem to get out of committee.

Last year, the road block was Rep. Milo Smith, who was then chairman of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. Smith, who was in his final term, declined to give the bill a hearing.

This year, the committee chair is Rep. Tim Wesco, a Republican from Osceola, and he, too, opposes the reform effort. 

“He believes an elected body should draw these maps,” Vaughn said. “We’re going up against a brick wall there.”

The frustrating thing for Vaughn is that House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) has voiced support for redistricting reform.

“But his actions haven’t matched his words,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn stresses that she doesn’t believe support for redistricting reform should be a litmus test for winning appointment as chair of the Elections and Apportionment Committee. Still, she’s hoping the measure will at least make it to the House floor for a vote.

“Hoosiers deserve to have their legislators vote yes or no on this issue,” she said. “Legislators should go on the record. Do they support gerrymandering or do they not?”

Vaughn promises to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives. Reform advocates are urging supporters to contact their legislators and write letters to the editor to encourage reform.

“I’m sure a lot of our legislators would like to ignore this issue,” Vaughn said, “but our job is to make sure they can’t.”

Related Stories:
• EDITORIAL: Redistricting, sans politics

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