Redistricting: What is it and why should anyone care?
Sunny Leerkamp and Shari Frank, Guest Writers
Once every 10 years, the United States conducts a census and the results of that are used to divide populations into voting districts at the state and national level. This process is mandated to ensure that changes in population can be reflected in creating equal representation in Congress and state legislatures. The process is called “redistricting.”
There are at least five fundamental reasons why voters need to understand redistricting and why they need to care about it:
1. Placing voters in districts is at the foundation of the concept of one person/one vote.
2. The district you are placed in determines who represents you at the state and national level.
3. Who represents you determines whether or not your voice is actually heard.
4. How the districts are drawn determines whether you get to pick your representatives or the representatives get to pick their voters.
5. Achieving fair maps is the key to fair elections.
In many states, including Indiana, state legislators are in charge of drawing the redistricting maps. This creates a clear conflict of interest. Across the nation and throughout our history, this process has allowed the majority party, whether Democrat or Republican, to largely control the redistricting process and has frequently resulted in an abuse of the process called “gerrymandering.”
Gerrymandering allows legislators to look at partisan information and create safe districts for individuals representing their party and unfavorable to their opposition. Gerrymandering contributed to a result in the last two Indiana congressional elections where Republicans garnered 57% of the vote, but 78% of the seats, while Democrats received 42% of the vote and only 22% of the seats. These numbers fly in the face of the concept of one person/one vote.
Recently, Dr. Christopher Warshaw, a national expert on gerrymandering, was commissioned to analyze why one party in Indiana holds such a disproportionate supermajority in the General Assembly and congressional delegation. After looking at the maps drawn in 2011, his findings showed:
Indiana’s current electoral maps are more tilted in favor of one party than 95% of all the maps enacted in the United States over the last 50 years.
Indiana’s bias is worse than those of its neighboring states of Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois.
Indiana’s maps dilute minority party votes by packing Democratic voters into a few heavily Democratic districts.
The maps eliminate many competitive districts that would otherwise elect moderate representatives.
Indiana’s geography did not cause these unfair maps; Indiana’s redistricting commission did.
(The full report can be found at www.women4changeindiana.org/redistricting.)
The lack of fair representation through fairly drawn maps in Indiana has resulted in an outcry of individuals who feel unheard and ignored by their representatives. This has been vocally expressed in the 10 public hearings held by the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan representative group selected by a coalition of organizations interested in creating fair maps for Indiana. This commission is analyzing why Indiana’s voter turnout is in 42nd place out of 50 states and eight out of nine congressional races were won by more than 16 percentage points. Voter apathy due to the lack of competition is at the heart of the problem, and apathy is created by voters not feeling heard. By drawing maps to favor a political party, voting power is diluted and communities are split. In addition, and importantly, fair representation is directly related to talent recruitment and retention of valuable human resources that our state produces. People are choosing to move to other states where they feel their interests can be represented, rather than staying in Indiana.
The ICRC invites everyone to take an interest in the redistricting process. Every Hoosier voter has a vested interest in joining the Commission in its efforts to protect the important role of every voter in our democracy. The Commission will be holding an open competition for maps to be submitted for prizes after the census data is available in August of this year. You can go to the website at districtr.org and practice drawing your own maps and submit them for prizes, later to be announced.
The Commission is committed to taking the best maps submitted to the legislature for their consideration. If their own maps do not satisfy tests of fairness and impartiality, we want to be able to ask them why.
For more information or actions you can take, please email LWVBC: [email protected]
Editor’s note: Sunny Leerkamp is chair of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission and vice president of the League of Women Voters Brown County, and Shari Frank is president of the League of Women Voters Brown County.