Every 10 years in years ending in 1, an otherwise relatively obscure figure in American history — a legitimate “Founding Father”– becomes a household name.
Elbridge Gerry — pronounced “Gary” — devoted his adult life to promoting democracy, culminating as James Madison’s second vice president for only one year, 1813-1814, because he fell ill and died at age 70.
But his name will forever be connected to something he did in 1812 while governor of Massachusetts: he signed into law new legislative maps that created one state senate district which apparently reminded an opposition newspaper and its political cartoonist of a salamander.
Although Gov. Gerry reportedly objected to the partisan map-drawing, his signature was sufficient to hold him responsible for the resulting “Gerry-mander.”
More than 200 years later, “gerrymandering” — the “g” is now pronounced as a “j” — is a synonym for drawing legislative maps intended to preserve power for those with the power to draw them.
Although few Hoosier politicians of either party would volubly endorse any idea coming out of Massachusetts, Indiana legislators of both parties have readily engaged in a decennial embrace of gerrymandering, drawing maps in secret whose sole aim is to perpetuate the majority’s numerical advantage. Some have fairly described gerrymandering as the way legislators select their voters instead of voters selecting their legislators.
Thanks to technology, map-drawing has become so sophisticated and precise that its own vocabulary has evolved.
A body of federal case law based upon claims that partisan gerrymandering violates voters’ Constitutional rights evolved, too—including an early case from Indiana — until the doors to federal court were closed by a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.
The legally mandated process of state legislatures drawing lines for congressional, state Senate and state House of Representatives seats every 10 years sounds benign enough: it’s called redistricting.
Redistricting is a three–step process. First, the decennial census is completed. Second, the 435 U.S. House seats are allocated through a process called apportionment or reapportionment. Third, the state legislatures draw the congressional districts, and while they’re at it, include their state House and Senate districts.
Typically, the decennial census data is available to the states early in the following year. This year, finalization of the 2020 census is delayed. Accordingly, the Indiana General Assembly won’t have the data with which to perform the 2021 redistricting before its planned April 21 adjournment, so a fall special session is anticipated.
We at The Indiana Citizen believe partisan gerrymandering contributes to our state’s poor civic health by discouraging Hoosiers from voting. After all, when election outcomes are foreordained — the rationale goes — what’s the point of showing up?
We hope to play a role in ensuring the 2021 redistricting process is conducted by the General Assembly in an open, transparent and public way that results in fair maps which promote competition and thereby motivates more Hoosiers to vote.
In the coming months — as our resources permit — we hope to provide the most comprehensive coverage of the 2021 redistricting available to Hoosiers on any platform. We call it our “Redistricting Resource Center,” a library of sorts to assemble our original content as well as background information.
If you’d like to contribute your own work or recommend other source materials, please click here.
What better way to get our series started than a debate on whether the existing maps drawn in 2011 are the product of a partisan gerrymander? — The Indiana Citizen