Gerrymandering And Indianapolis’ Potholes

Today is the day the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in two political gerrymandering cases–one from North Carolina and one from Maryland. Given the current composition of the Court–and its politicization in this Age of Trump–I’m hopeful but not optimistic that the Court will find the practice unconstitutional.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that gerrymandering is destructive to democracy. It’s one of the most significant reasons that the United States is ruled by a minority, one of the reasons why studies consistently show that measures supported by 80% or more of Americans don’t translate into policy–and why policies supported by the much smaller percentages of citizens who are wealthy and well-connected are much more likely to become law.

But it took my husband’s remark at a recent anti-gerrymandering house party to bring home the connection between gerrymandering in Indiana and the thousands of potholes residents of Indiana dodge every spring.

As Common Cause’s Julia Vaughn had just explained, most residents of Indiana live in the state’s metropolitan areas–in cities. But thanks to the way gerrymandered districts have been drawn, a majority of policymakers in the Statehouse represent predominantly rural areas. And that, as my husband pointed out, leads to state distribution formulas that significantly favor rural areas over urban ones.

My husband spent six years as Indianapolis’ Director of Metropolitan Development. His experience with the state’s fiscal favoritism for rural areas angered him when he dealt with it then, and it has continued to be an abiding irritation. But as often as he has fulminated about the unfairness of those distributions, I had never made the connection between them and gerrymandering, until that house party discussion.

Especially when it comes to money for the state’s streets and roads–and schools–Indiana’s distribution formulas are more generous to much more thinly populated rural areas of the state  than to the cities where the majority of Indiana’s citizens live. And that won’t change so long as the state’s districts are drawn to keep the GOP in control–because GOP voters live predominantly in the rural areas of the state, not the cities, which tend to vote Democratic.

Even a cursory examination of Indiana’s House and Senate districts as currently drawn will illustrate the degree to which urban Hoosiers are unrepresented, the degree to which urban areas have been “carved up” and the resulting portions married to rural areas in order to dilute the voice of city-dwellers.

There’s a lesson here.

It’s important to reform gerrymandering in order to reclaim “one person, one vote,” and to reverse the damage being done to the country every day by the current plutocracy. But if that goal seems too abstract, if the connection between a “gamed” and dishonest redistricting process and everyday life seems vague–think about the connection between equal representation and distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim, or flatten a tire.

With or without the Supreme Court, gerrymandering has to go.


  1. Well, this sheds an interesting new light on gerrymandering. I live in a very rural part of the state and thought our roads were horrible until I travel to downtown Fort Wayne or Indy. Geesh! It is quite shocking to find out that city streets can be even worse than ours.

    Sheila, can you tell those of us who are interested in finding out – how do we learn about the state distribution formulas and how they are decided? This is something that most likely 99.9% of us have never thought about.

  2. I’ve been at unrest with an “abiding irritation” for decades over how the Koch/GOP led gerrymandering has worked against democracy. Congrats to your hubby!

    But let’s be honest, it’s a winning strategy.

    The other side has offered NO DEFENSE. Nancy Pelosi is a shill for Wall Street.

    I get criticized for being hard on Democrats but who opposes gerrymandering?

    So, let me ask, why do Democrats who oppose gerrymandering also favor free-market capitalism?

    If you cannot see the connection…well…

  3. There may be other means of destroying the gerrymander than via the courts (if there is or can be a judicial answer to this democracy-destroying cancer). When there are more prospective Democratic voters than Republican voters and yet the minority comes up with a supermajority one election after another, it seems to me the answer to the gerrymander is one of organization. If, as some say, Indiana is not a red state but a blue state where the blues don’t get their act together and vote, then we blues are contributing to our own under-representation and better-organized Republicans are running away with the electoral store.

    If such analysis is correct or nearly so, then we should spend a lot of time and resources in getting the vote out, in going into urban precincts to register and turn these people out on election day etc. With all the legal nuances of the gerrymander and its refutation of the “one man, one vote” theory (which it effectively dismembers), perhaps the answer need not be one of stump victimhood or Supreme Court arguments about how the gerrymander is destructive of our democracy, but rather merely one of organization where the rubber meets the road.

    If we Democrats have the votes but don’t organize to turn them out, that is not a fault of Republicans or “the system,” it’s our fault, and if by such a massive organizing of the vote we don’t immediately succeed in winning a majority in the House and Senate, we may at least end the Republican supermajority status with an eye toward attaining majority status next trip and/or the one after that. Democracy is not self-nurturing and can be lost to minorities by stay-at-homes. Our task in nurturing our democratic values and institutions is to end stay at homes and thus nurture one of the fundamental tenets of democracy, to wit: majority rule.

  4. Activism is the answer to the question of “how Democrats can change the outcome of elections.” Do you know your Precinct committee person and the Vice committee person? Do you know your Ward Chair? If not, you and they have failed our civic duty. Each township in Marion County has a monthly meeting of the Democratic Party. Probably the other 91 counties do also. The meeting lasts about 90 minutes. You don’t miss much prime time TV. You meet people of like mind, candidates, and elected officials. Pertinent issues are aired. In my experience those in attendance are the Precinct Officials, few ‘regular’ folks, voters. Only when we strengthen the Party at the precinct level will we produce victory. That used to mean door-to-door canvassing. Today, social media could be a boon to marshaling our citizens in the effort to “do the right thing.”

  5. Some streets are paved on the cheap. That’s true of most residential streets not subject to commercial traffic. Seems that construction doesn’t survive well in our Freeze-Thaw climate.

    Are the paving specifications different in Minnesota or Alaska?

    Some paving holds up well in Indiana. Most does not. If you’re wondering what’s going on, ask a paving contractor, especially any who patch and run.

  6. Gerald,

    You are absolutely right. I was appalled by all of the people who were “thrilled” that we had such “high” turnout in 2018. About half of the eligible voters voted. That’s something to be ashamed of as far as I’m concerned. I keep returning to de Tocqueville, who told us that, in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.

  7. Folks, CommonGoodGoverning, my project, focused our efforts during the 2018 election on turning out voters who rarely, if ever, vote in primaries and/or off year elections. Of the 12 Democratic US House candidates we worked with who lost, each and every one did better than the Democrats in that district in both 2016 and 2014. We can create a “Blue undertow”.

  8. How? (patmcc)

    If each local, State and/or federal district represented has the same population, some other legal basis must be found other than- it tends to favor a political party or it was drawn in a political manner.

    Some State constitutions provide a basis; I don’t think the U.S. Constitution does except to the extent it runs afoul of “civil rights” Amendments in the Constitution.

    I predict that this is the basis of the ruling one can expect.

  9. Let’s face it, the problem is gerrymandering combined with fake news combined with lack of science and civic literacy combined with the Electoral College combined with big data, the IT ability to defined almost down to the household the most partisan district borders, combined with Russian interference in our elections combined with unregulated capitalism combined with world record wealth distribution up combined with the resurgence of plutocracy. It’s a sticky problem.

    At the moment the baton has been passed from Robert Mueller to Nancy Pelosi to hold all of these forces in check for the next two years. Then the baton gets passed to us.

    Are we united enough to overcome such a sticky problem?

  10. Federal Courts have been evolving on the issue for some time. They have gone from doctrine of untouchable ” political question” to increased court intervention over the past half century. Court ordering states to conduct elections on an at large, non- district basis is a good remedy. Not because it is a good remedy, but because it is undesirable. Also, it is completely constitutional. Each state could get out from under the order by submitting a Court approved district plan. Requiring districts to be compact, homogeneous and drawn with out consideration of politics. There are precedents .

  11. Like Todd I share an “abiding irritation” with gerrymandering. For me it started in the 1960s when the Republicans simply refused to draw new legislative districts allowing their sparsely populated districts to control the legislature. Redistricting every ten years was the solution. Until we democrats carryout at strategy that punishes those who hold their power based on gerrymandering, their is no hope. I join Sheila with some wish for the SCOTUS to rescue us, but really? Perhaps becoming an oligarch or convincing some of them to act in the best interest is the country may be the only path to stop that “abiding irritation.” In the meantime I will reiterate that there is no such thing as a “free market.”

  12. Some here will continue to vilify the folks that have chosen to forgo voting. Why have so many chosen to withdraw? Because it’s almost like politics in the US is a rich man’s grift to get people to argue over meaningless BS that doesn’t affect their lives one bit in order to distract the citizenry from the glaring reality that they are not interested in Fixing Our Problems.

    RussiaGate is proof that the alternative to the Republican Party has become nothing more than the * Washington Generals.

    *The Opposing Team to the Harlem Globetrotters.

  13. The problem with democracy is that most people are too dumb for self-governance. What allows it to work is that the dumb people of whatever persuasion tend to cancel themselves out, as their votes are more or less randomly placed. When the dumb votes cancel out, the smart votes elect wise people.

    The problem now is that, unlike in the past, the GOP has cornered the market on dumb people, or at least dumb whites, and there are simply far more whites than anyone else. This has occurred since racists have chosen the GOP, thus leaving the Democrats the sole voice for classic liberalism, with the GOP being almost exclusively authoritarian. Donald Trump is the culmination of a nearly 100 year process self selection that was sealed when President Johnson forced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

    From this point forward, it is Civil War, cold or hot. Classic liberalism vs. authoritarianism. The rest is a sideshow.

  14. The rurally-dominated legislature votes against its own interests for their schools time and again. The GOP legislative leadership is comprised of those from wealthy suburban communities. For years, they have used their considerable leadership powers to ‘force’ rural legislators to support school funding formulas that rob both rural and urban schools to pump more funds into wealthier suburban schools. They’re doing it again this year. These same legislative leaders control the reapportionment maps. They can and do punish those who don’t stay in line with leadership wishes by re-districting incumbents out of their districts entirely or into districts which favor another incumbent or which make their district much more competitive.

    Indiana would be so much better off if our legislature was more interested in a rising tide which lifts all boats rather than in weighing down the majority of all schools and students in order to lift those which already enjoy so many more advantages.

  15. Yesterday, on what should have been a short trip to my doctor for a wellness checkup and fasting blood test and urine test, resulted in a lengthy driving trip across the east side on “repaired pot hole” areas. By the way; the trip was made necessary because IU Health Care arbitrarily ceased paying for lab fees in my home clinic with no notification, but that is another issue. Having to drive to 2300 East 10th via East 16th Street/Brookside Parkway took me to a detour where the posted 6 1/2 miles of Parkway has been blocked since late last summer. My primary physician then had to call to learn if the Methodist Medical Clinic at 9600 East Washington Street accepted walk-in patients due to the fact that I had fasted. Luckily they do but that is why I drove over miles of pot hole filled groupings and cracked streets with a few blocks of smooth strip patching in one short area. Indianapolis has received a grant to repair the infrastructure in addition to our years of paying for this with our property taxes, the added gas tax for street repair a few years ago and last year’s added Transportation Infrastructure Improvement tax to register all vehicles. What next? Recording our mileage to register vehicles and add a mileage tax for infrastructure repair?

    Indiana has long been known as the “Land of Taxes”; state income, county, township taxes with loss of deductibles now putting many residents in the position of owing Indiana MORE taxes. They all come under the general heading of “Gerrymandering Taxation” and voters keep getting suckered in to elect the same names year after year.

  16. Whose District is this listed in the news release below ? Any connection to the Red Line project which appears not to benefit those who need public transportation. I have seen a small area of street repairs above and beyond pot hole filling; basically at the intersection of East 16th Street and Post Road, a “nice area” of the east side where miles of actual repairs are needed but the quality of homes and malls in the area of need doesn’t “qualify”.

    OMG; your comment speaks a partial truth,”Some streets are paved on the cheap. That’s true of most residential streets not subject to commercial traffic. Seems that construction doesn’t survive well in our Freeze-Thaw climate.” Many of our residential streets in suburban areas are heavily traveled daily but are subjected to being “paved on the cheap” for reasons that can only be traced to gerrymandering. These streets are also subjected to the same “freeze-Thaw” conditions as those subjected to commercial traffic.

    March 26, 2019
    INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW) was today awarded $1 million in project funding through a Next Level Roads: Community Crossings matching grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation. These funds will be used to construct DPW Project ST-19-073, a comprehensive improvement to selected neighborhood streets, sidewalks, curbs and ramps just west of the College Avenue corridor, generally between 38th Street and E Fall Creek Parkway N Drive.

    The $1 million infusion will supplement the project’s estimated construction budget of more than $2 million.”

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