[r63] Messmer Report: What's at Stake?

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, October 29, 2010

You, as a voter, hold all the cards in the upcoming election.

It may be tempting to sit back and say, "My vote doesn't matter anyway.  What will happen will happen, and politicians will do what politicians will do."

If that's your attitude about this year's election, I'd like to fill you in this week on just what is at stake for next year.

At the state level, there are several issues hanging in the balance.

For one thing, the political party that wins control of the Indiana state legislature will have the opportunity to draw the district maps for the state.

That might not seem like such a big deal, until you find out what the process of redistricting-or 'map-drawing'-really means.

Every time there is a census, political districts in the state are redrawn to represent the new population numbers as accurately as possible. Unfortunately, 'accurate' isn't always how the maps turn out.

Because Indiana's maps are currently drawn by legislators and not by a computer or an independent commission, that leaves plenty of wiggle room for drawing maps that benefit one political party over the other.

For example, if two separate counties have small pockets of constituents who tend to vote in a certain way, whoever is drawing the maps has the power to lump both of those pockets into one district, thus taking them out of the 'competition' so that the party in power can more easily win the votes of the rest of the county.

You may remember the term 'gerrymandering' from history class. The term started in 1812 when Governor Gerry (pronounced 'Gary') of Massachusetts signed a bill which redistricted his state in order to help his political party.

A political cartoonist thought that one of the more suspicious districts looked like a salamander, so he drew it that way- and labeled it a "Gerry-mander."

Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who started a campaign last year called "Rethinking Redistricting," put it this way:

[In Indiana]," legislators have a constitutional duty to draw the maps, and they should keep that duty. But for redistricting to work for Indiana voters, our lawmakers need new, better parameters for the upcoming round of redistricting in 2011.

"The district maps in use today were drawn in 2001 and are based on 2000 census data. Since those maps were drawn, Indiana's competitive field of candidates has become more and more shallow, with candidates in two out of every five legislative races running without major party candidate opposition."

Just as in the business world, I think competition benefits Hoosiers. You should be able to choose your elected officials; they shouldn't be the ones picking you based on your voting record!

The other major issue before us for next year will be crafting the state budget.

In Indiana, budgets are biennial. This means that we only undertake the "great budget debate," in which we allocate funding for everything from public parks to public safety, every other year. And next year will be more important-and more difficult-than ever.

The budget will be a major focus next session, and the party who holds the majority will be in the driver's seat.

So remember to look up who or what you are voting on. Become informed, and vote - your vote really does matter!

I can guarantee it will be one of the most important things you do all year.