Saturday afternoon’s legislative hearing on redistricting in Elkhart County included more than a few lessons in history — from the origins of gerrymandering two centuries ago to its more sophisticated implementation in the 21st century.
As in the seven other hearings held around the state during the previous two days, public testimony before the joint hearing of the Indiana House and Senate elections committees was dominated by speakers who asked the lawmakers there to make some history of their own — by redrawing Indiana’s congressional and legislative districts with input from the public and in a way that would not give disproportionate power to one party over another.
Gail Bederman, a history professor at the nearby University of Notre Dame, came to the podium after several other speakers cited analyses that found Indiana’s 2011 redistricting — controlled as it will be in 2021 by Republican majorities in both the House and Senate — to be one of the nation’s clearest examples of gerrymandering.
The message that sends to students like those in Bederman’s classes, she said, is devastating.
“I am privileged as an older person to work with people in their 20s,” she said. “They learn from what they see. And what they’ve learned is democracy is a sham.
“In fact they think that democracy’s always been a sham. They don’t believe in that any more than they believe in Santa Claus.”
One way to combat that, Daniel Grimes told the panel, is to draw lines that keep communities like his city of Goshen within the same districts, to avoid the confusion among citizens can discourage them from bothering to vote.
“I believe in representative democracy and that’s why I’m here,” said Grimes, a former Goshen city councilman who said that since he turned 18, he has never missed voting in an election.
“In Indiana, so few people believe in democracy anymore. They believe that it’s a lost cause, that the legislature doesn’t really care and that the districts, the gerrymandered districts, aren’t designed to be representative. They’re designed to help those in power to continue to hold power.
“My plea today is that there be nonpartisan districts throughout the state, that they be as compact as possible.” — The Indiana Citizen