By Julia Vaughn, Policy Director, Common Cause/Indiana
The 2011 legislative session has been full of controversial issues and partisan politics leading to a record-length walkout by House Democrats with the requisite finger pointing by their Republican counterparts. All of this acrimony, and yet they haven’t even gotten to redistricting, easily the most political issue they will deal with this year.
The partisan fighting does not bode well for the upcoming map redrawing process that will have such a huge impact on Indiana elections for the next decade. This is a watershed moment in Indiana history and presents Republican leaders at the Statehouse with some big decisions.
Will they continue the long Indiana tradition of gerrymandering for political gain and incumbent protection, or will they make good on previous promises to make the 2011 round of redistricting the most fair and open in state history?
While the GOP leadership in the House and Senate may agree in theory that districts should be drawn for purposes greater than political ones, their large majorities will make it difficult to create maps that please both their members and public interest criteria. In addition to pressure from incumbents to draw districts that improve their chances for re-election, Indiana mapmakers are under great pressure from national Republican leaders to deliver safe districts.
If Indiana voters want new congressional and state legislative districts that serve the public interest over political interests, now is the time to act. To help citizens understand the process and give them opportunities to impact the new districts, AARP Indiana, Common Cause/Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana have formed the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The 11-member group is representative of Indiana voters. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, independents and the tea party are all represented. Members come from across the state and represent minorities, rural and urban voters, and a variety of political philosophies.
This diverse group has come together to hold public hearings to examine the proposed maps and to encourage a grassroots discussion about what communities of interest exist in our state and how they should be treated in terms of new districts. Comments from the public meetings will be used to draw a set of public interest maps that will be submitted to the chairs of the House and Senate Elections Committees.
Indiana was among the first states to receive 2010 census data in early February; the receipt of these data got the redistricting ball rolling at the Statehouse, although it remains uncertain how public a process this will be.
The House and Senate should solicit public comment only after they have introduced their draft maps. They should dedicate enough time to this process to ensure that the public’s voice is really heard and that communities of interest have time to reflect on what redistricting means for them and express how they want to be treated.
It is important for citizens to pay attention to the redistricting process. As voters, we’ll be stuck with the results for the next 10 years. To find out where the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission is holding meetings and how to get involved go to www.drawthe lineindiana.org.
Read the story at Indystar.com