Few political processes are more important or consequential than that of defining or drawing districts for legislative bodies. Whoever controls where district lines are drawn wields immense power to determine voters’ choices at the polls, election outcomes and whose interests are more or less effectively represented in our legislative bodies. Little wonder then that legislative districting is an issue of great concern to the League of Women Voters and all citizens interested in open, fair and effective representative government. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to regulate the time, place and manner of Congressional elections to the individual state legislatures. The Indiana Constitution, as is true of most states, gives the power and responsibility to define the state’s legislative and congressional districts to the General Assembly. Thus, not only does the state legislature define districts for congressional elections, but it also determines the make up of its own members’ districts. For more than two centuries, members of state legislatures, the legislative political parties and other special interests have used the districting process to advance their own political objectives. Incumbent legislators want districts they can win. The majority party in a legislative chamber wants to maintain its dominance by drawing districts to its advantage. Special interests, if they are powerful in the state, try to protect themselves by influencing the districting process.
Indiana provides an excellent example of how this districting process works and the threats to open, fair and effective representative democracy it poses. Redistricting in Indiana has been hotly contested throughout its 199 years as a state. As a strongly competitive two-party state through much of its history, whichever party controlled the legislature at the time of constitutionally mandated redistricting had strong incentive to use the districting process maintain itself in power.
The political significance of redistricting in Indiana could be seen between 1923 and 1963, when, for 40 years, the General Assembly failed to redistrict, in clear violation of the state constitutional requirement that it do so every six years. Over the 40 years following the 1921 redistricting, a process controlled by Republican majorities in the General Assembly and influenced by rural constituencies, the state population shifted significantly from rural to urban places. But rural interests, even though they came to represent a minority of the state population, retained dominance in the General Assembly under the 1921 district plan. They used their legislative majority to prevent adoption of a plan that would shift power to the urban areas where the population majority resided.
Full Article: Redistricting under review – journalreview.com: Opinion.