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Commentary: Legislators can’t truly represent the people if they don’t know the people

The following column by Indiana State Rep. Sue Errington also appears at

Earlier this month, I and my fellow members of the House Elections and Appropriations Committee attended public redistricting hearings across the state of Indiana and listened as hundreds of Hoosiers called for the same thing: fair maps.

In a time when politics and the pandemic have divided so many, it was inspiring to hear hundreds of Hoosiers unite and demand that the legislature implement a nonpartisan redistricting process. Republicans and Democrats alike shared their many frustrations, including the fact that many of their communities were split up like jigsaw puzzles.

For example, my home county, Delaware County, is divided among five state representatives. Only two of those representatives, including myself, actually live in Delaware County. Yet, the other three representatives are expected to be advocates for the people of Delaware County in the General Assembly. How can they know what to advocate for if they don’t live and engage with the community? Every county is unique. Every county has its own values, causes and issues. On top of that, Delaware County is home to Ball State University, which brings its own needs and concerns when it comes to representation.

Legislators cannot truly represent the people if they do not know the people.

Counties like mine are split up to create safe districts and easy elections for the supermajority. There is no incentive to get to know the community or its people because the legislator doesn’t need their vote. They don’t have to put in the effort to get to know Delaware County because they have several other counties within their district to make up the difference at the polls. This has a ripple effect. The legislator doesn’t know or need to advocate for legislation and change that benefits the people so they support or oppose legislation based on their own biases or their own party agendas. This is how Indiana has seen extremely partisan policy, like the abortion reversal or permit-less gun carry legislation we saw in the 2021 Legislative Session. That policy always ends up costing Hoosiers, either through costly, taxpayer-funded lawsuits or further infringement of basic rights.

The testimony of Marilyn Moran Townsend during Indianapolis’s redistricting hearing united the voices of all concerned Hoosiers:  “We understand from our voters that they believe that unfair maps by either party leads to less representative government. It leads to more abuses in government, it leads to more extreme government, and it leads to less responsive government.”

Hoosiers deserve to look at their representatives and see their communities reflected back. They deserve to see their values and causes reflected in the legislation their representatives present. They deserve maps free from political bias and greed.

Hoosiers have made their voices heard. Now it is time to turn their words into action and draw fair maps.

Sue Errington (above), a Democrat, is a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from Muncie.

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