The following also was posted on the blog of the author, Sheila Seuss Kennedy, Emerita Professor of Law and Public Policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
As delayed census information has finally become available, we are witnessing the every-ten-year effort by politicians to redistrict in ways that will favor their parties. Both parties engage in these efforts–but credit where credit is due, Republicans are far better at it. Ten years ago, the GOP’s “Redmap” effort–detailed in the book Rat***ked–-succeeded in delivering far more power to the party than their voters would otherwise have entitled them to.
Gerrymandering–where legislators choose their voters rather than the other way around–has been an American “tradition” since the days of Elbridge Gerry, but with the advent of computers, it has become increasingly precise. I have posted repeatedly about the negative, nefarious consequences of the practice; and I have published academic articles elaborating the damage to democratic governance. None of those articles broke new ground–the negative outcomes of the practice are widely recognized.
Here in very red Indiana, our current legislature–dominated by a Republican super-majority courtesy of gerrymandering–is once again planning to ignore broad grass-roots efforts to ensure that the lines being drawn respect “communities of interest.” In Indiana, that would mean ending the legislature’s decades-old war on urban Hoosier voters.
The Star looked at the way Indiana’s gerrymandering disproportionately favors rural residents, effectively disenfranchising Blacks living in urban areas of the state.
Oliver, who is Black, lives in a diverse area on Indianapolis’ east side within Senate District 28. But she’s represented by Sen. Michael Crider, who lives in the rural Greenfield area in Hancock County. His community little resembles Oliver’s neighborhood, where nearly half the residents are people of color. Crider, like every Republican Senator and all but one GOP House member in the Statehouse, is white.
The district, in fact, is largely rural land from Fortville to Shelbyville, but jets in finger-like deep into Indianapolis’s east side all the way to the Irvington area. Indy residents note the voting power of their largely Democratic-leaning area is diluted by the rest of the majority rural Republican-leaning district.
One Irvington resident described it in a public redistricting hearing as a “middle finger slipping into the city of Indianapolis.”
It isn’t just Black people who are being disenfranchised–it’s all residents of urban Indiana. And that disenfranchisement has very practical consequences. There is, to take just one example, a connection between gerrymandering and the thousands of potholes residents of Indianapolis dodge every spring.
A majority of Indiana residents live in the state’s metropolitan areas–in cities. But as the Star article noted, thanks to the way our gerrymandered districts are drawn, a majority of policymakers in the Statehouse represent predominantly rural areas. That leads to state distribution formulas that significantly favor rural areas over urban ones.
My husband spent six years as Indianapolis’ Director of Metropolitan Development. His experience with the state’s fiscal favoritism for rural areas angered him when he dealt with it then, and it has continued to be an abiding irritation. But as often as he has fulminated about the unfairness of those distributions, it took me several years to recognize the connection between state distribution formulas and gerrymandering.
When the legislature allocates money for the state’s streets and roads, it is far more generous to the thinly populated rural areas of the state than to the cities where the majority of Indiana’s citizens live. And that won’t change so long as the state’s districts are drawn to keep the GOP in control–because GOP voters live predominantly in the rural areas of the state, not the cities, which increasingly vote Democratic.
Even a cursory examination of Indiana’s House and Senate districts as currently drawn illustrates the degree to which urban Hoosiers are unrepresented, the degree to which urban areas have been “carved up” and their “carved up” portions married to larger rural areas in a purposeful effort to dilute the voices and votes of city-dwellers.
So yes–it’s important to reform gerrymandering in order to reclaim “one person, one vote,” and to reverse the damage being done to the country every day by legislators who are far more responsive to rabid rural culture warriors than to the majority of American voters. But if that goal seems too abstract– if the connection between a “gamed” and dishonest redistricting process and everyday life seems vague–think about the connection between fair and equal representation and those distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim or flatten a tire.
Think about it again when our public schools are once again shortchanged.
Then tell your state Representative or Senator that you will work tirelessly to defeat any legislator who supports yet another Hoosier gerrymander.