Indiana is a red state, but it’s not as red as you think it is.
Gerrymandering, the process of manipulating electoral districts to favor a certain group, has given Republicans an edge in Indiana. The state legislators Hoosiers elect this November will be in charge of redrawing the maps that could define Indiana politics for the next decade.
The districts were last redrawn in 2011. In 2012, Republicans established their supermajority. They won 78% of congressional seats with less than 53% of the statewide popular vote. In particular, the map made the 9th Congressional District, which includes Monroe County, much stronger for Republicans.
In Indiana, the General Assembly votes on redistricting plans, and the governor has veto power. If the legislature can’t pass a plan, then the maps are drawn by a five-person commission.
Allowing legislators to draw their own districts is problematic. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.
Proposed reforms included creating bipartisan citizen commissions to draw maps for the legislature to vote on, making the data used for redistricting public, developing a public mapping website and allowing Hoosiers to give their input during the redistricting process. Reform bills were authored by both Democrats and Republicans.
It’s easy to see how both sides of the aisle would be tempted to draw districts in their own interests. However, analysis by Princeton professor Sam Wang found only Republicans have used gerrymandering to achieve extreme results.
It’s already hard enough for Hoosiers to have their voices heard without considering the effects of gerrymandering.
In 2016, Indiana ranked 40th in registration and 41st in voter turnout. This November, voter turnout is an even bigger concern because Indiana is one of six states that requires an excuse not related to the COVID-19 pandemic to vote by mail.
The coronavirus will not only affect the election of state legislators, but also the data they will use to draw the maps. The 2020 census may be inaccurate because in-person interviews were delayed due to the pandemic.
"The end result would be [overrepresentation] for the white non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count," former Census Bureau Director John Thompson wrote for a hearing on the census before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in April.
Coupled with gerrymandering, inaccurate representation could have devastating effects on already underrepresented populations.
A common argument in response to allegations of gerrymandering is that other structural factors cause the disparity in election outcomes. For example, Democrats are more likely to live in compact urban areas, whereas Republicans are more likely to be spread out in rural areas.
Still, that’s not an argument against independent redistricting. If state legislatures don’t want to manipulate redistricting for their own benefit, then independent redistricting shouldn't be a problem. Redistricting reforms would greatly reduce the risk of partisan gerrymandering.
Indiana should join the ranks of the 26 states that already use independent redistricting commissions. Vote for state representatives who will fight for fair redistricting and commit to ending gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is a disservice to everyone. No matter what your party affiliation is, your voice should be heard and your vote should matter.
One election shouldn’t decide the election results for the next decade.
Allyson McBride (she/her) is a junior studying English and political science. She is the press secretary for the College Democrats at IU and copy editor for An Inkslinger's Observance.