The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, March 07, 2021 1:00 am

SETTING BOUNDARIES

Citizens' voices can help to ensure fair redistricting

Marilyn Moran-Townsend and Tom Hayhurst

Gerrymandering is an important term with an interesting origin.

Gerrymandering is important to each of us because it limits our voice in the Indiana legislature and in Congress.

Its origin lies with Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, who worked with his legislature in 1812 to draw district lines that favored the incumbent party. Political cartoonists at the time thought the shape of the districts resembled a salamander. Thus, “gerrymandering” became the term to describe a partisan political process to keep current elected officials in office. 

Fast-forward to 2021. Under the U.S. Constitution, reapportionment occurs every 10 years after the national census has been completed. Reapportionment, or redistribution of seats in the U.S. House, is based on a state's population.

This is the year for reapportionment as well as redistricting; reapportionment involves equalizing the number of citizens assigned to each state and federal district. New maps outlining the state and congressional districts will be drawn this fall. These maps are in danger of being gerrymandered unless you get involved now.

Maps can be drawn in many ways. In Indiana, the majority party in the legislature controls the process. While gerrymandering should not happen, the political process puts our legislators in a challenging situation. While it is understandably difficult for legislators to ignore their own self-interest to remain in office, we should expect our elected officials to put the people's interests above their own.

The process by which gerrymandering occurs involves “packing” one party's candidates into selected districts and “cracking” other districts to peel away voters of the non-dominant party and place them in a single “packed” district. This is opposed to the concept of compact districts designed to represent large swaths of citizens with similar interests and concerns regardless of party.

“Packing” and “cracking” often lead to lopsided and bizarrely shaped districts with irregular borders populated by citizens who do not have mutual legislative interests.

A national study found Indiana had the fifth most-partisan districts in the country. So what's the big deal?

If legislators pick their voters to ensure reelection, it is no surprise that citizens will believe their votes don't really matter. The result is that they give up and don't vote. This explains why Indiana has among the lowest voter turnout rate in the country.

To be clear, this is not a slam on Indiana's Republican-controlled legislature. Gerrymandering in other states keeps Democrats in control.

Either way, legislators have less incentive to represent their constituents, especially constituents of the other party.

For four years, the Advancing Voices Of Women (AVOW) Women's Campaign Institute has been training women of both political parties to successfully run for office and, once elected, reach across the aisle to collaboratively get the people's business done.

But legislators in “safe” districts have less incentive to collaborate with legislators of the other party or appeal to centrist views.

Do you really want another 10 years of legislators who don't need to represent all their constituents? Do you want another 10 years of congressional representatives who don't feel the need to work with legislators of the other party?

Several attempts have been made to convince our Indiana legislature to reform redistricting by passing legislation to create a citizens' redistricting commission to take charge of the process. Modeled after citizens' commissions in other states, the legislature would have the final authority to accept or reject the recommended Indiana state House, Senate and congressional district boundaries the citizens' commission would propose.

To date, our state officials have rejected this idea and expressed their intent to carry out another partisan redistricting process in 2021.

For this reason, the multipartisan Indiana Citizens' Redistricting Commission has been established as a model redistricting body. The commission comprises three Republicans, three Democrats and three citizens who do not identify with either party. The sponsor is the All IN for Democracy coalition, founded by Common Cause Indiana and the League of Women Voters of Indiana.

This is how you can get involved: The commission is holding virtual public hearings in each of Indiana's nine congressional districts.

Your input will be the basis for a report we will present to the Indiana legislature in advocating for a fair map-drawing process.

As soon as the census data is released, the commission will oversee a public mapping contest with cash prizes. The winning citizen-drawn maps will be presented by the commission to the legislature with a request that they be officially adopted by our elected officials.

This is our last chance for a decade to redistrict Indiana based on citizen participation. A redistricting plan based on extensive citizen input to a multipartisan commission will do much to restore the faith of Indiana citizens in the legitimacy of their state and federal representatives.

It's not left versus right; it's right versus wrong.

Marilyn Moran-Town-send, CEO of CVC Communications, is a Republican member of the Indiana Citizens' Redistricting Commission. Tom Hayhurst, a physician and former Fort Wayne City Council member, is an alternate Democratic member of the commission.

To take part

The Indiana Citizens' Redistricting Commission hearing in Congressional District 3 will take place from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, March 13. Register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ujw84BSPStaPvW19xJc7hg


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