Gerrymandering Update

Monday afternoon was the last meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting.

The good news: by a vote of 8 to 3, the committee recommended major reforms, including that district maps be drawn by an independent commission. (For details, you can visit the websites of either Common Cause of Indiana or that of the Indiana League of Women Voters.)

The cautionary news: the recommended legislation will have to pass both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate, both with Republican super-majorities.

I will readily admit that when I was asked to serve as a lay member of that committee, I had no expectations that we would actually produce a recommendation for change, let alone that such a recommendation would be the product of a bipartisan vote. (I used to be an optimist, but reality has beaten me down…)

The committee was chaired by Representative Jerry Torr, a Republican who demonstrated admirable civility, fairness and open-mindedness, and who ultimately supported the recommendation for reform.

Open-mindedness was rather conspicuously lacking from the three “no” voters, Brant Hershman, Pat Miller and Beverly Gard. All three came into the process determined to deep-six any proposed reforms, and Miller and Hershman made no bones about it. Hershman had voted against even constituting the committee, and both he and Miller continued to insist that there was no problem with Indiana’s maps, despite hours of public testimony and substantial research evidence to the contrary.

The ultimate prospects for reform now rest with the citizens of Indiana, who will need to display to their elected Senators and Representatives the same support for change that they displayed during the public meetings of the Interim Study Committee. They packed the House Chambers, contacted committee members and made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable.

What is gratifying about the outpouring of public support for gerrymandering reform is that it is evidence that the public has caught on to the importance of systemic control mechanisms. Voters have finally recognized that going to the polls and casting a ballot is meaningless if the district in which they are voting has been rendered uncompetitive.

The recent book Ratfucked spelled out how the Republicans gerrymandered districts after the last census–and how the Democrats were asleep at the switch as that very sophisticated effort made the U.S. House unwinnable for Democrats for the foreseeable future. A recent report from Politico suggests the Democrats got the message:

As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.

The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.

It would be nice to have a democracy where voters choose their representatives, instead of the other way around.


  1. Thank you, Sheila, for all of your time and effort spent on trying to make elections more fair in the future.

    As I mentioned a couple days ago, there will be a debate next week between the incumbent state rep for my district (Dave Wolkins) and his opponent Dee Moore. I brought up gerrymandering to Dave Wolkins at a local meeting back in March and plan to attempt to bring attention to it again at the debate. Of course, he does not see any problem at all with gerrymandering since he represents the ruling party.

  2. Thank you for your and everyone who is involved for the effort to bring the light of day to jerrymandering and for this update!

  3. OMG; Sheila, this is great to hear. I fully expected the opposite outcome. If nothing else; maybe Trump, Pence and this entire presidential campaign fiasco woke up those who sit at home and complain about election outcomes they didn’t bother to vote in.

    My polling place changed this year; no idea if the change from a small church on a side street to a large building housing health care facilities at the corner of East 16th Street on Arlington Avenue is the difference but..I had to stand in line to vote for the first time in the 11 1/2 years I have lived here. Leaving, I passed an even longer line of voters containing a number of elderly and disabled who had been brought to the poll to cast their votes. Whichever side they voted on, they were there en masse in this east side area. We elected a new Democratic City Councilman if that is any indication of forward movement.

    This gerrymandering committee itself is a huge step forward; hopefully it is another positive sign that people are paying attention. Thank you for your vital participation.

  4. Thanks to all who served the public interest by pushing this reform. It will be interesting to watch the Indiana legislature react to it.

  5. Many thanks to Sheila and the other 7 members of the commission who voted to support reform. But the rejection of the reform proposal by all 3 Republican appointees from the Indiana Senate is an ominous signal that no matter the intensity of public support for the measure, it will fail in the Senate and thus die. Its likely fate shows why the federal courts must again begin to regulate redistricting. While courts are understandably reluctant to enter the political thicket of redistricting, when the political system is incapable of reforming itself and has manipulated the system to make political reform impossible, the courts must step in to end political monopolies just as they do economic ones. The Supreme Court is one progressive justice away from a new willingness to regulate gerrymandering, which truly does “rig” the outcome of elections here and in so many other states. Among many other reasons, this is why the presidential and senatorial elections next month may be the last chance to end the reign of the political oligarchs and return not only to Hoosiers but to all Americans the blessings of a true democracy as envisioned by our Founders so long ago.

  6. JoAnn, thanks for reporting the large voter turnout in your area. It does sound like progress is being made.

  7. I expect the operative question will not be whether it will be passed (it won’t), but whether the work of the commission, along with the inevitably self-serving and absurd things said during legislative debate, will create a set of facts that will make a constitutional challenge to gerrymandered districts more viable?

  8. Congratulations, you’ve won the first battle of what may turn out to be a long war. Good luck on the next battle. Getting it through the legislature will be the hardest part. My guess is that they will pass a bill that won’t resemble the recommendations, then claim they have followed the will of the people.

  9. Democracy (self-government) doesn’t work if your vote is geographically neutered by gerrymandering and I sometimes wonder whether members of a legislative body who endorse such tactics could have their legislative immunity pierced via a class action suit and be held liable for violation of the civil rights of those whose votes they have effectively stolen. I seem to recall that this possibility could be tried out under 42 USC 1981 et seq., if my memory serves me well. Whatever happened to the old “one man, one vote” (including the distaff since 1920) regimen and its undergirding philosophy of true representation, and how can those who put into place such gerrymandering tactics pretend to believe in democracy while simultaneously dismembering one of its strongest reason for being, i.e., the right to vote (and have it count)?

  10. I attended the committee meeting and applaud you and your fellow members for the time, effort and hard work. Those members who continued to stonewall the effort are either completely tone deaf to the concerns of the voters in this state or are so partisan that party affiliation means more than the health of a truly representative democratic governing system.
    Rep. Hershman was particularly obstructionist in his closing remarks, repeatedly denying that there was any problem with the current status quo.
    If memory serves, one of those giving testimony/comment on the proposed report indicated that fully one third of offices in the last election were unopposed.
    Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana and several speakers from the League of Women Voters had comments that underscored the consequences of leaving things as they are. Candidates who refuse to respond to requests for position statements for voter guides because their positions don’t matter as they have no competition for the office is just one of those glaring consequences.
    It is small wonder that voters are apathetic and disengage. Clearly, no contest equals no impetus to participate for many. Just look at the participation rates in the most recent election. Last in the country is not a badge of honor for Indiana.

  11. Thank you, JD. You are correct that Hershman was annoyingly deaf to the evidence and immensely self-satisfied. (A bit of overheard snark: “I’d like to buy Hershman for what he is worth, and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.”)

  12. I just hope that the Dems realize that their treatment of Obama nationally during his first term, ushered in this republican craziness that eventually allowed voter suppression and gerrymandering in the first place.

  13. Thank you, Shiela and the other members of your committee who have defended democracy. Running for reelection in 1972, I was gerrymandered out of the Indiana House of Representatives by the GOP as my small rural home county was divided and placed in two districts. In the next redistricting, my county was split again by the GOP so that a Republican state legislator could not mount an effective primary campaign for Congress. When I moved to the Indianapolis suburbs, I lived in a county that was relentlessly gerrymandered by Republicans (along with the other counties around Marion County) to insure that the Indianapolis GOP political machine controlled as many legislative seats as possibly regardless of population changes in Marion County and the GOP suburbs. Under-representation of suburban Replicans was the goal. That’s what happens when the politicians get to pick their voters instead of the other way around.

  14. Great first step for Indiana. But even if by some miracle the reforms get passed in the Legislature, and redistricting is left up to an “independent” commission, doesn’t automatically mean there will be a great number of Democratic or even competitive districts in Indiana’s future.

    For example, Arizona, where I now live, has had an “independent” Redistricting Commission responsible for creating the Congressional districts since 2000, when it was created by a citizen ballot initiative. Following the 2010 “independent” redistricting, there are only 2 out of the 9 Districts in Arizona that don’t have substantial majorities of Republican voters (one of those is Gabby Giffords former District which has a very slight Democratic voter advantage, and even it’s currently being held by a former Tea Party (now in the closet pretending to be a moderate) Republican, who it appears will win re-election this year). And to create even those 2 “competitive Districts, the Commission had to draw some of the craziest maps.

    And even though the Republicans have a substantial majority of registered voters in and control 7 out of the 9 Districts, the Republican super-majorities in the Legislature (Sound familiar to you back in Indiana?) filed numerous lawsuits following that 2010 redistricting claiming that the Districts hadn’t been properly drawn, that the Chairperson of the Commission wasn’t qualified to serve, and that under the U.S. Constitution, only the Legislature has the right to draw the district boundaries (that last claim made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court). The Repubs, thankfully, lost every case (wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in the process, of course). But they are unlikely to stop trying to derail the Independent Redistricting Commission as long as they hold super majorities in the Legislature.
    The bottom line, I guess, is that 2 “competitive” Districts are better than none.

  15. Peggy,

    “Congratulations, you’ve won the first battle of what may turn out to be a long war. Good luck on the next battle.”

    Ditto on the Congratulations. I’m afraid you’re going to see the most significant battle starting tonight. John McCain stated a few days ago that the Republicans were going to fight the Supreme Court nominee even if Clinton wins. Trump is happy that his “shackles have been removed.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see and hear tonight what was in store for President Obama from Sarah Palin if the hurricane hadn’t hit a few weeks before the 2012 election, forcing Governor Christie of New Jersey to work closely with the President.

    How do you win when you’re 10 points behind? You use racial hatred………African-American, Latino, Asian and Jewish. A potent combo. It’s simple WHITE against DARK. Don’t forget we still have a WHITE MAJORITY.

  16. I just had a thought; this does happen from time to time. The majority of people don’t pay attention to politics, politicians or which party does or does not support them or their issues till the situation reaches proportions we are seeing today. The term “gerrymandering” may be unknown or not understood so they ignore the issue believing it has nothing to do with them. Maybe – only maybe – if the term “redistricting” is used, they would begin to question the situation and ask how it involved them – personnaly.

    I had the same thought regarding the term “Global Warming”; everyone seemed to understand the often referred to term “destroying the environment” a few years ago. Semantics plays a large part in politics; Trump has a way of getting attention with his lower level vocabulary. Look how much attention; negative at last, he garnered when his quote “grab their pussy” came out. This is probably more true regarding Trump’s many supporters; they need to be “talked down to” at their own level of understanding.

    Just a thought…or three.

  17. JoAnn,

    “…….they need to be “talked down to” at their own level. Just a thought…or three.”

    You’re right. That’s exactly what Hillary Clinton fails to do almost every time. For example the word: “deplorable.”

    “What is madness is refusing to find a simpler, less costly, and less destructive way of settling conflict. According to Sun Tzu, one more intelligent way of doing battle involves foreknowledge, which depends on reliable information about the enemy—his intention, condition, and location. With this knowledge, the general can thwart the enemy’s soldiers, or thwart the enemy’s movements instead of allowing the enemy to outmaneuver him and kill his soldiers. Therefore, given the enormous cost of preparing for war, including the waste and devastation of waged battles, the cost of obtaining reliable information is the last thing a general should worry about. If he refuses to procure information, then he values a few gold coins more than people’s lives. This, indeed, is the height of inhumanity.”

    “Sun Tzu said:

    Generally, the one who occupies the battlefield awaiting the enemy is at ease;

    the one who comes later and rushes into battle is fatigued.

    Therefore, those skilled in warfare move the enemy, and are not moved by the enemy.

    Getting the enemy to approach on his own accord is a matter of showing him advantage,

    stopping him from approaching is a matter of SHOWING HIM HARM.”

    “Therefore I say:

    One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles.

    One who does not know the enemy but know himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose.

    One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.”

    “The Art of War: Spirituality for Conflict” translations and annotations by Thomas Huynh (Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2012).

  18. Thank you for your time and efforts on the redistricting study committee. I attended the hearings and found them very informative. Let’s hope Republican senate leadership will support changes that would probably benefit them eventually–they might be able to lead their own party.

  19. Certainly Brant Hershman would be against this. He has one of the most dramatically gerrymandered districts in the state. Prime example in Jasper County we have two Senators, and families can live within a few miles of each other and have different Senators. Case was made on facebook when a leading Republican in Jasper County posted farmers and we vote. Both signs in their yard.

  20. Thank you for your hard work on the committee. It is a surprising first step that the recommended reforms passed. Congratulations on that result.

    As for the Democrats being “asleep at the switch”, it goes back further than that. In 2003, Tom Delay engineered a second post-census redistricting in Texas, allowing Republicans (who had just recaptured the state legislature) to gerrymander like crazy. When I suggested the idea that Democrats should return the favor and redistrict Illinois with an “octopus” rather than a “salamander”, I was met with shock. Democrats don’t do such things.

    I had only suggested that Henry Hyde (of the Hyde Amendment) and Speaker Denny Hastert could be “tentacled” into the heavily Democratic district of Danny Davis or Jessie Jackson, Jr.

    Years later, some of those same people admitted that I may have had a good idea.

    Actually, neither Democrats nor Republicans understood the trajectory of the Republican Party from the Southern Strategy through “Philadelphia, MS” Reagan, Newt Gingrich and beyond.

  21. Len,

    “Actually, neither Democrats nor Republicans understood the trajectory of the Republican Party from the Southern Strategy through “Philadelphia, MS” Reagan, Newt Gingrich and beyond.”

    Just a small disagreement. I would change “understood” to “understand.” The most important threads are sub-surface. Because of this deception and resulting misperception, the trajectory is, consequently, miscalculated.

  22. Len,

    On my website, I use the metaphor of a tsunami. Why do I use that metaphor instead of a typhoon for example? I must admit, I’ve been remiss in not explaining exactly why I framed and used tsunami as my metaphor. It’s not only because of the possibility of a disaster. A typhoon could just as well have been used. It’s because in a tsunami there is a subsurface force that cannot be detected on the surface. The greatest danger from a tsunami is the subsurface wave that ultimately hits the shore. Similarly, the subsurface/deceptive combination wave of anti-Semitism and racism which I have been tracking since the early 80’s is now being detected more and more because of the actions of Donald Trump who has warned that he doesn’t plan to stop its velocity even if he loses the election. The danger facing the nation is that there is no attempt to convey the EXTENT of the danger because there can be no root cause analysis without an accurate perception of the subsurface wave. The wave had to be observed at its onset. This present state of affairs, if not corrected, can only have one result: CATASTROPHE.

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