Tag Archives: interim study committee

Polling and Gerrymandering

A couple of days ago, I ran across one of those proliferating “wow, look what Trump is doing to the GOP” polls. It showed Clinton crushing Trump, the Senate going Democratic, and in the House, “generic Democrats” beating “generic Republicans” by 11 points.

The problem is, those “generic” preferences are meaningless. In the last House elections, Democrats nationally received a million more votes than Republicans. Have you noticed who controls the U.S. House of Representatives–by a very healthy margin? Republicans.

There are two reasons national generic preferences are irrelevant. The most obvious is that in individual congressional districts, voters do not have a choice between Generic Candidate A and Generic Candidate B. They are faced with real people, some of whom are appealing and some of whom are appalling, and party doesn’t predict those characteristics.

There is also a reason that voters face lopsided choices, or in some cases, no choice at all, and that reason is gerrymandering–partisan redistricting intended to make districts “safe,” aka uncompetitive.

As I have argued previously, this lack of competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why volunteer or vote, when those efforts are clearly irrelevant?

It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it’s very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. The result is that in many of these races, voters are left with a choice between the incumbent and a marginal candidate recruited to fill the slot, a placeholder who offers no new ideas, no energy, and no genuine challenge. In other safe districts, there is no challenger at all; in either case, the primary is the real election. Such contests simply exacerbate cynicism and voter apathy.

Here in Indiana, a legislative study committee has been convened to consider the possibility of changing the way our legislators draw district boundaries. As one legislator noted during the last public meeting, the current system, which allows representatives to choose their voters rather than the other way around, is a clear conflict of interest. Several states have established nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and others are considering similar reforms.

Study committees tend to be places where legislation goes to die. In this case, citizen turnout at Study Committee meetings and pressure from large numbers of citizens–mostly mobilized by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause–has given us hope that we can actually get something done. The next meeting of the Interim Study Committee will be July 7th at 1:00 in the afternoon in the Indiana Statehouse. If there is once again a robust turnout from members of the public, that will send a very important message to legislators who want to hang on to a status quo that benefits them.

If you can attend, I hope you will.


Interim Report on an Interim Committee

As some readers of this blog know, I was appointed to a Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, convened by the Indiana Legislature. Yesterday was our second meeting;  we heard three presentations and took public testimony.

The first presentation was… interesting. It was offered by Jim Bopp.

For those who don’t know of him, Bopp is an uber-conservative Indiana lawyer on the wrong side of pretty much everything: he was the architect of –and won–Citizens United, and he has argued against same-sex marriage, reproductive choice….He’s pretty infamous in Indiana but until he appeared before the committee, I was unaware that he had any background in redistricting.

Actually, if his testimony reflected his knowledge of the issue, he probably doesn’t know much about it; he just favors anything that keeps Indiana Republicans in control. (In a later presentation, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm–an expert on the law of redistricting– noted that Bopp had made several assertions that were factually inaccurate.)

Bopp’s basic argument for keeping redistricting in the legislature was straightforward, if bizarre: Since all choices inevitably have partisan consequences, establishing an independent commission to draw district lines would not be any better than the system we have now. (I am not making this up.)

When Senator Lanane asked him if having elected officials draw their own districts wasn’t an inherent conflict of interest, he disagreed, offering a convoluted argument that allowing lawmakers to choose their voters is no more self-interested than letting people vote for a representative whose policies will benefit them. ( I couldn’t make that up!)

I asked Bopp whether he was familiar with the academic literature suggesting that public trust in the legitimacy of the system improved in states that adopted nonpartisan redistricting. He dismissed the public’s opinion as an artifact of a biased media. I wasn’t sure I’d understood his response, so I asked him a follow-up, “Do I understand you to be saying that the public’s attitude is irrelevant?” and his answer was “yes, because the public’s attitude is the result of propaganda, and is wrong.”

So there.

The other presentations were markedly more substantive and informative. Tom Sugar presented his “No Politics Plan” modeled on the redistricting system used in Iowa. (It can be accessed here.) Judge Boehm led us through the thickets of current constitutional law on the issue. (Most of what he presented is included in my paper on Electoral Integrity: How Gerrymandering Matters, which he was kind enough to review for me a while back.)

When it came time for public testimony, we heard from citizens ( some of whom had come from as far away as South Bend), and representatives of statewide civic organizations. Not surprisingly, all of the public testimony urged reform of the current system.

I am convinced that if the Interim Study Committee acts, it will be because so many citizens turn out every time there is a hearing. This one was on a Thursday afternoon, after relatively short notice, and the hearing room could not hold them all; an equal or larger number was in the hall, watching the proceedings on a television. The message was unmistakable: Indiana citizens want change. They want competitive, meaningful elections. They want trustworthy democratic institutions.

Unlike Jim Bopp, they don’t think the players should get to be the umpires.