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From South Bend: “Ending gerrymandering is not right vs. left. It’s right vs. wrong.”

The following column was written by Ranjan Rohatgi,  an assistant professor of mathematics at Saint Mary’s College, and Leigh Morris, former mayor of LaPorte. Both are members of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, a group formed to advise and provide alternatives to the Indiana General Assembly in the decennial redrawing of Indiana’s congressional and legislative districts. Rohatgi is a Democratic member and Morris is a Republican member of the commission. This column first appeared in the South Bend Tribune on March 24, 2021.

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In November 2020, candidates vied for nine Indiana seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In only one of these races were the top two candidates within 16 percentage points of each other. Of the 125 seats up for grabs in the Indiana General Assembly, only 12 races were within 10 percentage points and 40 candidates ran unopposed. No one should be surprised that Indiana ranked 42nd out of 50 in voter turnout last year. A decade ago, our state legislators virtually ensured that would happen.

Every 10 years after the U.S. Census is performed, each state must redraw the boundaries of its districts for both the U.S. House of Representatives and its state legislature in order to equalize the populations in each congressional, state House and state Senate district. New maps for Indiana will be drawn later this year.

In Indiana, as in many states around the country, the state legislature is in charge of creating these new maps. This control means that our state lawmakers have the ability to decide precisely which areas their districts should include — the very definition of a conflict of interest. That Republicans hold a supermajority means they can draw the districts to maximize the number of seats Republicans would likely win rather than attempting to draw districts that reflect Hoosiers’ views. A paper from 2014, “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap,” found that Indiana has the sixth-most partisan districts in the country; it is no wonder we lack close races and high voter turnout.

The term for such partisan redistricting is gerrymandering and, to be clear, is not limited to Republicans. Members of both major parties have repeatedly drawn partisan districts when they have had power over the process. There are two main tactics used in gerrymandering: packing and cracking. Packing places many voters who support one party into a small number of districts, ensuring that many other districts favor the other party. Cracking spreads voters who support a party into several districts, thereby diluting their voting power.

The multipartisan Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, assembled by the All IN for Democracy coalition, comprises nine Hoosiers: three Republicans, three Democrats and three who do not identify with either major party. Leigh Morris is a Republican member and Ranjan Rohatgi is a Democratic member. The commission is holding virtual public hearings in each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts; the hearing for Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the South Bend area, is on March 30, and residents can find details and register at allinfordemocracy.org. Testimony from district residents will be used to create a report that will be presented to the Indiana General Assembly as we call on our legislators to draw maps fairly. Once census data is available, the commission will hold a public mapping competition with cash prizes. The commission will present the winning maps, one each for congressional, state House and state Senate districts, to the legislature and advocate that these maps be adopted.

Maps made by Hoosiers and for Hoosiers are better for the public in every way than maps made by the legislature and for the legislature. Ending gerrymandering is not right vs. left; it’s right vs. wrong.