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Indiana lawmakers look to redistricting in 2011

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Indiana lawmakers already are looking ahead to redistricting in 2011, with some seeking an end to having the parties in power draw district maps primarily for political gain.

“Voters should have confidence that they are picking their elected officials, not elected officials picking their voters,” said state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel.

A group of legislators that examines U.S. Census data plans to study redistricting over the next few months. A resolution by Delph that led to the study says the panel should make recommendations “to promote the establishment of easily identifiable boundaries that keep communities together.”

The resolution says the Census Data Advisory Committee should examine computer programs that could assist in drawing districts more fairly. It also recommends the committee holds public hearings on redistricting.

Currently, Indiana lawmakers are required by the state constitution to vote on new legislative maps following the U.S. Census every 10 years. That’s expected to make the 2010 legislative campaigns more intense — especially in the narrowly divided House — because the parties in power will wield the mapmaking pens in 2011 following the 2010 Census.

It often is a partisan process designed to protect incumbents or carve out new territory based in part on voter registrations or voting patterns. Gerrymandering has resulted in many oddly shaped districts, some splitting rural counties and small cities.

House District 73 in southern Indiana, for example, covers parts of eight counties. Johnson County, which is south of Indianapolis, is divided into three Senate districts.

Delph said the process should not favor one political party over the other.

He said he would prefer an independent commission to draw new boundaries but that Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne encouraged him to seek other ways that would not violate the state constitutional provision that says the General Assembly must draw the maps.

House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, also wants to establish an independent commission to recommend new boundaries. House Republicans passed such a bill when they controlled the chamber in 2006, but it died in the Republican-ruled Senate.

Their proposed commission would not include lawmakers and would have to base district boundaries on nonpolitical factors that include population, compactness and attempts to keep communities together. Lawmakers would then meet in a special session during the redistricting year to vote on the proposal.

The plan would meet constitutional muster because of the legislative vote, Bosma said. While there was no provision in the proposal to say what would happen if lawmakers voted it down, he said they would be under intense political pressure to accept it.

“The current House maps are really a travesty, drawn in 2001 by the Democrats purely to maintain political power,” Bosma said, noting that Republicans won 56 percent of the statewide vote in House races in 2002, but Democrats ended up winning 51 of the chamber’s 100 seats.

Twenty-one states have a redistricting commission that draws up a plan, advises the legislature on doing so or acts as a backup if the legislature fails to pass a plan, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

If Indiana lawmakers cannot agree on new congressional maps, the House speaker appoints two members to a panel, the Senate president appoints two and the governor appoints a fifth member. This occurred in 2001.

Because Democrats controlled the House and governor’s office that year, Republicans were forced to accept congressional maps drawn by Democrats.

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said having an independent commission decide legislative districts would violate the state constitution and separation of powers.

“It seems to me that there are more and more attempts to take away from the people the power they invest in elected officials,” he said. “A commission is an escape mechanism. You don’t remove it to some fiefdom, some group that can’t be touched by the electorate.”

Usually, Bauer said, the only ones who complain about the current system in Indiana are the legislative parties that lose elections in Census years.

“They don’t complain when they win,” he noted.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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