The following was written by Breanna Cooper of the Indianapolis Recorder through The Indiana Citizen redistricting reporting project, which was organized with assistance from the Hoosier State Press Association.
Once a decade, Indiana’s congressional district, state Senate and House of Representatives maps are redrawn by the state legislature. While the new maps are based on data from the census — which is public information — maps are often drawn without much input from the community. This, Recorder columnist Marshawn Wolley said, often leads to Black and brown votes to be “diluted in the legislative process.”
The Recorder and The Indiana Citizen Education Foundation on Sept. 15 held a panel discussion to examine redistricting, racial justice and gerrymandering, the political process of manipulating voting districts to gain an advantage or put the opposing political party at a disadvantage. Wolley was the moderator. Panelists were Rima Shahid, executive director of Women4Change, Clyde Posley Jr., senior pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, and Bill Moreau, CEO of The Indiana Citizen.
A recent study from George Washington University, commissioned by the nonpartisan activism group Women4Change Indiana, found the state was more gerrymandered than 95% of the country.
Shahid said the difference between gerrymandering and redistricting is the latter is the process of developing fair maps within a state, as opposed to giving the majority party an advantage. When asked why people of color should be concerned about gerrymandering, she said every issue people care about — education, environment, etc. — can be tied back to redistricting. In short, unfair maps can make it difficult for voters to have their voices heard.
Posley said gerrymandering is a direct result of racism.
“A great deal of redistricting in Indiana and what keeps us at the bottom in terms of fair redistricting is the assault on people of color,” Posley said. “… Redistricting in Indiana is as much about color as it is about anything. … It’s a fear of the browning of America.”
“Gerrymandering has become an evil art, almost,” Moreau said, describing various gerrymandering techniques, including cracking, packing and bleaching.
“Cracking is breaking up communities, particularly communities of color and splitting them into other districts. Packing is the reverse. It’s packing communities of color together in districts and bleaching means exactly what it sounds like. It’s taking voters of color out of an otherwise majority white district and moving them next door to a predominately Black district.”
While different practices, all three techniques have one goal in mind, Moreau said: to keep the majority party in power. Moreau cited the proposed District 91 in this year’s map as an example of gerrymandering.
“The map drawers couldn’t figure out a way to draw 100 districts that favor the party in power,” Moreau said. “So, they’ve lumped Black voters together under the assumption that all of these voters will vote for Democrats, which is an insult.”
However, it may be working.
Posley believes there’s a direct link between gerrymandering and apathy. When people feel disenfranchised, he said, they’re less likely to show up to vote. The pastor said being involved — in voting as well as developing an understanding of the political process — is important for communities of color.
“In many cases, what we don’t know is hurting us,” Posley said.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.