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From Fort Wayne: Gerrymandering in Indiana

The following column was written by Marilyn Moran-Townsend and Tom Hayhurst of Fort Wayne. 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. Moran-Townsend is a Republican member and Hayhurst is an alternate Democratic member of the commission. This column first appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on March 7, 2021.

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Gerrymandering—an important term with an interesting origin.  Gerrymandering is important to each of us because it limits our voice in the Indiana legislature and in the U.S. Congress.  Its interesting origin begins with Eldridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts, who worked with his legislature in 1812 to draw district lines that favored the incumbent party.   Political cartoonists at the time thought the shape of the districts resembled a salamander—thus “gerrymandering” became the term to describe a partisan political process to keep current elected officials in office.

Fast-forward to 2021.  Under the U.S. Constitution, reapportionment occurs every 10 years after the national census has been completed.  Reapportionment, or redistribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Indiana House and Senate, is based on our state’s population.  This is the year for reapportionment, and new maps outlining the State and Congressional districts will be drawn this fall.  These maps are in danger of being gerrymandered unless you get involved now.

Maps matter.

Maps can be drawn in many ways.  In Indiana, the majority party in the legislature controls the map-drawing process.  While gerrymandering should not happen, the political process puts our legislators in a challenging situation.  While it is understandably difficult for legislators to ignore their own self-interest to remain in office, we should expect our elected officials to put the people’s interests above their own.

The process by which gerrymandering occurs involves “packing” one party’s candidates into selected districts and “cracking” other districts to peel away voters of the non-dominant party and place them in a single “packed”  district.   This is opposed to the concept of compact districts designed to represent large swaths of citizens with similar interests and concerns regardless of party.  “Packing” and “cracking” often lead to lopsided and bizarre-shaped districts with irregular borders populated by citizens who do not have mutual legislative interests.

A national study found Indiana had the 5th most partisan districts in the country.  So what’s the big deal?  If legislators pick their voters to ensure reelection, it is no surprise that citizens will believe their votes don’t really matter.  The result is that they give up and don’t vote.  This explains why Indiana has among the lowest voter turnout in the country.

To be clear, this is not a slam on Indiana’s Republican-controlled legislature.  Gerrymandering in other states keep Democrats in control.  Either way, legislators have less incentive to represent their constituents, especially the constituents of the other party.

For 4 years, the Advancing Voices Of Women (AVOW) Women’s Campaign Institute has been training women of both political parties to successfully run for office and,  once elected, reach across the aisle to collaboratively get the people’s business done.  But legislators in “safe” districts have less incentive to collaborate with legislators of the other party or appeal to centrist views.

Do you really want another 10 years of legislators who don’t need to represent all of their constituents?  Do you want another 10 years of Congressional representatives who don’t need to work with legislators of the other party?

Several attempts have been made to convince our Indiana legislature to appoint a citizens’ redistricting commission with the input of Indiana’s citizens. Modeled after citizens’ commissions in other states, the legislature would have the final authority to accept or reject the recommended Indiana State House, Indiana State Senate, and U.S. Congressional district boundaries.  To date our state officials have rejected this idea and have expressed their intent to carry out another partisan redistricting process in 2021.

For this reason the multi-partisan Indiana Citizens’ Redistricting Commission (ICRC) has been established as a shadow redistricting body.  The ICRC is comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and three citizens who do not identify with either party.  The sponsoring organizations are Common Cause Indiana and the Indiana League of Women Voters.

This is how you can get involved.  The ICRC is holding virtual public hearings in each of Indiana’s 9 U.S. congressional districts.  The ICRC hearing in Congressional District 3 will be held at 3-5 pm on Saturday, March 13th.  We encourage you to participate.  You can register at:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ujw84BSPStaPvW19xJc7hg

Your input will be the basis for a report we will present to the Indiana Legislature for the purpose of advocating for a fair map-drawing process.

As soon as the census data is released, the ICRC will oversee a public contest with cash prizes.  The winning, citizen-drawn maps will be presented by the ICRC to the legislature with a request that they be officially adopted by our elected officials.

This is our last chance for a decade to redistrict Indiana based on citizen participation.  A redistricting plan based on extensive citizen input to a multi-partisan commission will do much to restore the faith of Indiana citizens in the legitimacy of their state and federal representatives.  It’s not left versus right, it’s right versus wrong.