ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Study exposes Indiana’s political imbalance

Terre Haute Tribune-Star

This editorial was originally published Friday in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

It’s no secret that Indiana is, in political terms, a bright red state. The Republican Party has an iron grip on state government and in most local government entities.

What Hoosiers don’t realize is how skewed its political district lines have become and the ends to which GOP leaders have gone to squeeze every bit of power it can from the map-drawing system.

In the 2020 elections for president, governor and attorney general, Republican candidates won their races with about 57% of the vote. Yet, the GOP holds about 73% of state House and Senate seats.

This gross imbalance has been underscored by a recent study commissioned by Women4Change Indiana, an advocacy group that hired George Washington University professor Christopher Warshaw to do an independent study of the state’s electoral maps. The results are eye-opening.

Warshaw found that Indiana’s maps are more tilted than 95% of the maps drawn nationwide over the past 50 years.

Districts are reapportioned every 10 years based on the results of the U.S. census, and using sophisticated computer technology, Indiana Republicans have turned gerrymandering into a science, using precise mapping to squeeze the greatest advantage from the available population based on voting tendencies. And they’re very good at it.

“It’s a pretty extreme level of partisan bias in the Indiana map,” Warshaw told the Tribune-Star last week.

In addition to diluting minority party seats by packing Democratic voters into a few heavily Democratic districts, gerrymandered maps eliminate competitive districts that might otherwise elect moderate representatives.

The result is more polarizing candidates getting elected and fewer candidates coming forward to run in noncompetitive districts. Over time, the controlling party achieves a super majority, which has happened in Indiana. At that point, the minority has little or no impact on the legislative process and more extreme pieces of legislation get adopted.

The process causes public confidence to wane and voter turnout to weaken.

There is a better way. Twenty-one states have already adopted it by creating independent or bipartisan commissions to draw legislative maps. Such an approach doesn’t diminish the will of the voters. Rather, it crafts a government that more accurately reflects the makeup of the electorate.

Indiana political leaders from both parties promoted the creation of an independent redistricting commission. But the proposal goes nowhere once it arrives in the heavily partisan legislature.

Women4Change has served Indiana well by digging deep into the state’s redistricting process and makes a strong case for change.

In a functioning democracy, the will of the people should be fairly represented. That’s what this group, and many others like it, are asking of political leaders.