In this election season one detail which affects all voters has received little attention but it needs to, especially for voters in Indiana.  I’m speaking of the way lines are drawn to determine districts for various levels of government.  Every ten years, after the Federal Census is taken, lines are redrawn to reflect population shifts because, by law, districts must be roughly equal in population.  Other considerations must be taken into account, which makes the process more difficult than just drawing boxes.  Currently in Indiana the political party in power at that time draws the lines.  It is too tempting to draw them to favor your own party and this has led to what is called “gerrymandering.”  

A bit of historical trivia is interesting as to how that term came about.  Elbridge Gerry, born 272 years ago, signed the Declaration of Independence, was a key supporter of the Bill of Rights, Vice President of the United States, and Governor of Massachusetts. All these accomplishments have been eclipsed by one decision he made while governor; Gerry approved Massachusetts State Senate districts in 1812 that sliced and diced the state in a deviously artistic way to secure Democratic-Republican control of the chamber while thwarting his Federalist opponents. A Boston Gazette cartoon compared one of the districts to a salamander and called the new creature a gerrymander. The label stuck, and today, gerrymandering remains the preferred term to describe the drawing of legislative districts for political advantage. 

The people of Indiana are all too familiar with this undemocratic practice. This year, the General Assembly districts our legislature drew for themselves will deprive voters of choices at the ballot box. Voters in 46 percent of state legislative districts will see only one major party candidate on the ballot because no candidate from the other party decided that it was even worth trying to win. Election Day is still three months away and the results in almost half of our state legislative races have already been decided.

Gerrymandering has further troubling consequences for Indiana’s democracy and economy.  When legislators feel too secure in their seat they are less likely to listen to their constituents.  I’m not saying this is true in all cases but the temptation is there.  They are more likely to fear being challenged from someone from their own party who is extreme or a “one issue” candidate.  This is not good for democracy. 

Indiana can do better. Other states have devised solutions that take power away from the politicians and give it back to the people. Across the nation, Americans standing up for fair representation now have the wind at their backs. In Indiana, we have a major opportunity for reform through the Special Interim Committee on Redistricting, which is a group of legislators and citizens currently working to write a reform proposal for introduction during the 2017 legislative session.  

The Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting was founded by Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana in 2014 and has grown to include more than a dozen organizations, all working for a redistricting process that removes the conflict of interest inherent to putting legislators in control of redistricting.  It won’t be an easy effort but momentum for reform is building.  We need all citizens concerned about Indiana’s future to join our fight for fair districts.          

In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens to create independent redistricting commissions. In its opinion, the Court affirmed that “partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles.” This decision protected independent citizen redistricting commissions that voters created in Arizona and California in addition to reforms in other states. 

What can you do?  Tell your state legislator to support reform.  Watch Gerrymandering: The Movie at leaguelafayette.org.  

If you would like someone from the League of Women Voters of Howard County Area to come to a meeting of a group to discuss this issue, call Sandy Grant, 765-452-1035 or Rachel Jenkins, 765-628-3564.

Rachel Jenkins,
Greentown