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Voters must keep eye on redistricting

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District has been one of the nation’s more competitive U.S. House seats for the past decade. Both major parties have run successful campaigns in a district that is almost evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters. That may change, however, after the Indiana General Assembly redraws district maps this year.

Political analysts expect Republicans, who control the redistricting process in the Legislature, to alter the boundaries to make the district lean in favor of the GOP. In anticipation of that outcome, the district’s current representative, Democrat Joe Donnelly, is exploring the possibility of running for the U.S. Senate or the governor’s office in 2012.

When politicians resort to gerrymandering, it’s no longer the voters who pick their elected leaders. It’s the candidates — or, more precisely, party bosses — who pick the voters.

To their credit, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma and Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, have pledged to make redistricting a less partisan exercise than it has been in previous decades. But there will be intense pressure on Republican leaders from within their own party to fully capitalize on gains the party made in the November elections.

In a welcome nod to an open process, legislative leaders plan a series of hearings around the state to collect public comments about redistricting. But once the real mapmaking begins, there’s a danger that the public will be shut out of the legislative process, which often involves last-minute changes made in a conference committee.

Lawmakers should protect against that hazard by pledging to post the completed maps online at least a week before a final vote is taken. They also should initiate the multiyear effort needed to form a nonpartisan commission that would be charged with drawing new district maps in the future. Creation of an independent panel with the authority to reconfigure districts every 10 years would require legislative and voter approval of a constitutional amendment.

This year, voters are left with legislators’ pledges to play fair. Public scrutiny of the process is the only safeguard to ensure those promises are upheld.

A decade from now, Hoosiers should have the force of constitutional law to protect their right to fair and competitive elections.

— The Indianapolis Star



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