Of all the forces shaping our politics today, gerrymandering stands alone as the least discussed and most consequential.
In Indiana, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and former Senate President David Long promised to address the issue. Yet, a bill that would prevent the practice never even made it to committee in 2018. Or during the 2017 session. Or the session before that one.
This year, a bill that sets guidelines the Legislature must follow when redrawing legislative and congressional districts passed through the Senate Elections Committee Monday. Senate Bill 105 would mandate lawmakers consider “how districts reflect minority voices” and limit “divisions in neighborhoods, public school corporations and other entities that would share common interests in an election,” Franklin College journalism student Erica Irish reported.
We continue to believe, as does Common Cause Indiana, a citizen-led commission is the best way to ensure districts represent all Hoosier voices. And Senate Bill 91, authored by Republican Sens. John Ruckelshaus of Indy, Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores and Jon Ford of Terre Haute, does just that.
Gerrymandering is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “To divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”
This method is as old as the republic. The term itself was created in the early 19th century in Boston, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry redrew state legislative districts to his Democratic-Republican Party’s advantage. One of the districts resembled a salamander. Thus, the combination of Gerry and salamander, gerrymander, was coined.
As the Associated Press pointed out, though, this favored Republicans in races across the country in 2016.
“The AP analysis also found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country,” reported the AP’s David A. Leib. “That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority that stood at 241-194 over Democrats after the 2016 elections — a 10 percentage point margin in seats, even though Republican candidates received just 1 percentage point more total votes nationwide.”
SB 91, like SB 105, is assigned to the Senate Elections Committee. But unlike SB 105, SB 91 hasn’t been reviewed.
We hope SB 91 gets a hearing in committee. A set of standards lawmakers must consider when redrawing congressional and legislative districts is a step toward better governance. But it doesn’t go far enough.
In this country, voters choose their representatives, not the other way around.