Thankfully, a Lot of People Don’t Find Redistricting Boring….

The second meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, of which I am a lay member, was held yesterday. Despite the fact that it was a Thursday afternoon, and the meeting started at 1:00, there were well over 100 citizens present; they filled the House Chamber and from where I was sitting, it looked like they filled the balcony too.

The purpose of this meeting was to hear expert testimony. (Discussion leading to the committee’s recommendations will come at the next two meetings. I’ll blog the dates and times when I know them.)

There were two presentations; one from a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, affiliated with New York University Law School, and the second from the Senior Legal Counsel to the Iowa LSA–the person responsible for directing Iowa’s redistricting process.

The Iowa presentation was a description of that state’s use of an independent commission to draw district lines–from all reports, a very successful effort to draw districts in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan way, and one that has earned the strong approval of most Iowa voters.

The first presentation, by Michael Li of the Brennan Center, focused upon the negative consequences of gerrymandering, and the current efforts of several states to reform their processes. He included a couple of interesting points that tend to get lost in discussions about gerrymandering’s more obvious effects.

Li pointed out that the redistricting “nitty-gritty”–the drawing of the lines–isn’t handled by local politicians; instead, the national parties send in teams of “experts” whose expertise is in manipulating data and computer programs, and who know little about the politics or culture of whatever state they are carving up. This dependence on national party operatives facilitates the contemporary shift of power and influence from state policymakers to national ones– further nationalizing America’s political parties.

Li also noted that although redistricting reform might not effect much change to the partisan composition of a state’s legislature, especially in very Red or Blue states, it does tend to change the nature of the partisans who hold those seats. (Social science research supports that observation; in states using independent commissions, Representatives of both parties tend to be less rigidly ideological and more willing to work across the aisle.)

This last observation is particularly important, because one of the arguments used by defenders of the current system (like Senator Hershman today) is to claim there are states where redistricting reform has changed a very minimal number of seats, and that shows the current system isn’t really a problem.

As Li quite properly responded, partisan shift is not the metric we should apply. In Republican states like Indiana, redistricting reform is unlikely to change control of the Senate, for example. If fewer elections are decided in the primaries, if fewer general elections are uncontested, if new people emerge to challenge incumbents, and –when those incumbents die or retire–if there is genuine competition for the open seat, then reform has worked.

When Senator Pat Miller challenged the notion of “nonpartisan” commission members–making the point that everyone has political opinions–Li agreed that most people have what we might call “political orientation,” although he noted that there is a difference between redistricting done by people who are deeply involved in the political process and that done by people who are not politically active. He compared the process to the composition and operation of juries; people serving on juries have prejudices and opinions, but most who serve take their responsibilities very seriously, evaluating the evidence and following the judges’ instructions.  ( I found the comparison compelling because when I was a practicing lawyer, I saw juries in operation, and saw the same seriousness of purpose.)

The one thing that seemed clear in the wake of the meeting was that Senators Hershman and Miller are not going to be voting for reform of any kind. But I have high hopes for the rest of us.


  1. In the 2014 election for the Indiana State House of Representatives, 45 of the 100 seats were uncontested. In the 2014 election for the Indiana State Senate, 12 of the 25 seats up for re-election were uncontested. There were 4 seats in the House that were appointed because the winner of the election resigned before the election or just after. Voter turnout in 2014 was around 28%, one of the lowest in the country.

    Elections in Indiana are not competitive because the Democrats have been corralled into a few areas and the GOP has the rest. Many of the incumbents from both parties barely campaign if they are in a “safe” seat, resulting in voter apathy and many people no knowing who is representing them in the Legislature.

    In Indiana we have the elected officials choosing the voters instead of the voters choosing the elected officials.

  2. I’m sure tomorrow’s blog will be about the Dallas shootings. 5 weeks ago Marv Kramer on this blog predicted a revolution or rebellion about this time. Marv, what do you say? Is this happening unprecedented in our history?

  3. Wayne, redistricting is an important factor in the “rebellion.” People that feel like they have no voice will take to the streets to make their voice heard, particularly when they feel like they have nothing to loose.

  4. Teresa makes two excellent points and thanks to Sheila for serving on the redistricting committee. Resistance to change (which is contrary to nature) is usually a red flag. Fear and/or control are the root causes of this resistance.

    Those who’ve had their hands in gerrymandering our districts will reject all efforts of changing the system. Even more reason for changing it. 😉

    Sadly, most Hoosiers don’t understand the process, so they are easily manipulated by self serving politicos.

  5. Wayne,

    “5 weeks ago Marv Kramer on this blog predicted a revolution or rebellion about this time. Marv, what do you say?

    The racial problems have been seething for many, many years. All of this mess is now unavoidable. Trump and Sanders have both forced the issue, but from different angles. The patterns have been set in “cement.” The cement is almost dry. When it finally hardens, there will be no room for change of direction.

    Let’s wait,at least, until tomorrow to continue this discussion. The issue of redistricting is vitally important, if there is to be any chance for a tolerable future in the U.S.

  6. Good luck to you I doubt the state legislature will pass anything even remotely resembling the commission’s recommendation, but getting it out there is a first step.

  7. It seems to me that our chance at bringing change to the redistricting process will depend upon citizens being educated about what has been going on and the benefits that change could bring.

    Sheila, how can the general public be educated? Would it be possible for people with knowledge of the process (like yourself and others) to conduct meetings open to the public to give people the opportunity to understand the problems that gerrymandering has caused in Indiana?

  8. Nancy,

    “…….give people the opportunity to understand the problems that gerrymandering has caused in Indiana?”

    Teresa pointed out our biggest problem right now. It’s caused by the lack of political equilibrium which needs a countervailing force to be effective.

    The “rebellion” is only one of the symptoms of the failure of the redistricting process and not just in Indiana, but it is deadly one. That’s a message that has a chance of getting through to all of the parties concerned, but only if the pro-democracy leadership is willing to “speak truth to power.”

  9. Like many things gerrymandering is both complex and simple.

    The most significant thing that I read today is that roving teams of experts from the national parties pull it off. As I have great respect for the capabilities of experts beyond us generalists my conclusion is that it’s more effective than I gave it credit for being.

    There have been times in history when perhaps the status quo was less bad but in times of upheaval not being able to change can get catastrophic. Ask the dinosaurs. Oh wait, none of them made it.

    There is evidence that the GOP is dying piece by piece. One bit is their inability to field a qualified candidate for President this year but like zombies their death is a long drawn out affair and the expectation is that despite failing in almost every way for the last two decades and arguably longer they still lurch around mucking up government.

    I have never been a Hoosier but wish you well in adapting to a changing environment. Evolution is a bitch but so much better than extinction and that’s what you’re facing. Given that the GOP will pull every trick in the book to survive their obsolescence and you will be the consequences.

    You deserve much better. Faced with anti-democracy your realistic alternatives are all up hill but there’s a reason you are called the heartland.

    Live up to your former reputation not your current one and I predict great success.

  10. We are benefiting from your position on this committee, Sheila. The information on the “teams of “experts”” who come from the national parties to actually draw the districts is alarming and eye opening.

    Todd Smeckens comment that “Sadly, most Hoosiers don’t understand the process, so they are easily manipulated by self serving politicos.” is a key point as well. As I don’t know who actually decides on the final plan (I don’t follow Indiana politics except through this blog.) I don’t know what effect media coverage and mailers will have on the decision.

    In any case, I am glad for Indiana that it is happening and that Sheila is participating.

  11. Gerrymandering is the opposite of democracy; it involves geographical dickering with the fundamental democratic notion that the majority rules. The majority does not rule when gerrymandered. Witness the national count for the House of Representatives. Even as gerrymandered in many jurisdictions, there have been more Democratic than Republican votes in toto in many of our elections lately. What that tells you is that the majority does not rule when broken down into arbitrary geographical units by politicians who have other fish to fry.

  12. If there’s one thing that unites all of us, it’s the longing for freedom. We all yearn to live our lives in our own pursuit of happiness as independent as possible from the burdens inflicted by fate or others.

    That longing is and will never be satisfied, but the closest we can get to it stems from democracy. If it is impossible to be entirely free in an overcrowded, resource constrained, competitive, highly connected world, at least having the same say as everyone else as to who and how societal stability is maintained is a good start.

    That’s what unites us. What differentiates us is whether or not we all have equal right to that freedom or if some are entitled to more than equal.

    Gerrymandering comes from that difference.

  13. When committee members ask to have it proven that there is a problem; when they learn that a change will certainly make it more difficult to protect their job; when they are fairly certain that the electorate doesn’t understand the issue, and they can spin it as a waste of money – we can be pretty certain that this will never come to a vote. There is a lot of information that needs to be shared with the public on how this affects them (and in concrete ways – money, jobs, ‘freedom’), in order to put pressure on the people who could lose their jobs by making this process more ‘neutral’.

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