City Council backs state redistricting reform

December 21, 2017 GMT

La PORTE — Data-crunching computer programs used to redraw political districts can provide an almost insurmountable edge to whichever party is in power, advocates for reform say.

And in Indiana, Republicans are in power.

Given the technology, getting redistricting right is more important than ever, according to Leigh Morris, a longtime Republican and former mayor who addressed City Council members ahead of a vote on a resolution favoring reform.

“I’ve heard it said that only Democrats favor redistricting, but I submit to you that redistricting is a nonpartisan imperative,” Morris said before quoting several notable Republicans opposed to political gerrymandering, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution, which encourages state lawmakers to adopt reforms outlined by a legislative study committee, including the use of a bipartisan independent commission to determine political boundaries.

Republican Councilman Roger Galloway voted against the resolution, saying use of an independent commission to redraw districts strips the ability of voters to hold their representatives accountable.

“There is no way to make this process nonpartisan in my opinion,” Galloway said.

The council has three Republicans and four Democrats.

Municipalities across the state have adopted similar resolutions, hoping to put pressure on state lawmakers to adopt reforms, Morris said.

“The time is ripe for change,” he said. “Gerrymandering cheats the voter and undermines the effectiveness of government.”

Morris, a member of a local Better Government Study Group, said new mapping technology and greater access to consumer databases make it easier than ever for politicians to effectively select individual voters and place them in specific districts.

He described “packing,” when a party in charge of redistricting tries to pack voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win, and “cracking,” when blocs of opposition voters are parceled out among several districts to dilute their strength.

“In either event, the general public loses,” he said. “Proliferation of these techniques makes the need for restricting reform even more important.”

State Sens. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, and John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, filed a bill this week to create a nine-member redistricting commission, with members appointed by each of the four caucuses as well as five at-large members selected from a pool of applicants.

The commission will draw maps following rules aimed at keeping general communities of interest together with the results subject to approval by the Indiana General Assembly.

State lawmakers convene on Jan. 3.