Drawing Lines

Ah, gerrymandering…..

As delayed census information has finally become available, we are witnessing the every-ten-year effort by politicians to redistrict in ways that will favor their parties. Both parties engage in these efforts–but credit where credit is due, Republicans are far better at it. Ten years ago, the GOP’s “Redmap” effort–detailed in the book Rat***ked-succeeded in delivering far more power to the party than their voters would otherwise have entitled them to.

Gerrymandering–where legislators choose their voters rather than the other way around–has been an American “tradition” since the days of Elbridge Gerry, but with the advent of computers, it has become increasingly precise. I have posted repeatedly about the negative, nefarious consequences of the practice; and I have published academic articles elaborating the damage to democratic governance. None of those articles broke new ground–the negative outcomes of the practice are widely recognized.

Here in very red Indiana, our current legislature–dominated by a Republican super-majority courtesy of gerrymandering–is once again planning to ignore broad grass-roots efforts to ensure that the lines being drawn respect “communities of interest.” In Indiana, that would mean ending the legislature’s decades-old war on urban Hoosier voters.

Even the Indianapolis Star has reported on that war.

The Star looked at the way Indiana’s gerrymandering disproportionately favors rural residents, effectively disenfranchising Blacks living in urban areas of the state.

Oliver, who is Black, lives in a diverse area on Indianapolis’ east side within Senate District 28. But she’s represented by Sen. Michael Crider, who lives in the rural Greenfield area in Hancock County. His community little resembles Oliver’s neighborhood, where nearly half the residents are people of color. Crider, like every Republican Senator and all but one GOP House member in the Statehouse, is white.

The district, in fact, is largely rural land from Fortville to Shelbyville, but jets in finger-like deep into Indianapolis’s east side all the way to the Irvington area. Indy residents note the voting power of their largely Democratic-leaning area is diluted by the rest of the majority rural Republican-leaning district.

One Irvington resident described it in a public redistricting hearing as a “middle finger slipping into the city of Indianapolis.”

It isn’t just Black people who are being disenfranchised–it’s all residents of urban Indiana. And that disenfranchisement has very practical consequences. There is, to take just one example, a connection between gerrymandering and the thousands of potholes residents of Indianapolis dodge every spring.

A majority of Indiana residents live in the state’s metropolitan areas–in cities. But as the Star article noted, thanks to the way our gerrymandered districts are drawn, a majority of policymakers in the Statehouse represent predominantly rural areas. That 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, it took me several years to recognize the connection between state distribution formulas and gerrymandering.

When the legislature allocates money for the state’s streets and roads, it is far more generous to the 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 increasingly vote Democratic.

Even a cursory examination of Indiana’s House and Senate districts as currently drawn  illustrates the degree to which urban Hoosiers are unrepresented, the degree to which urban areas have been “carved up” and their “carved up” portions married to larger rural areas in a purposeful effort to dilute the voices and votes of city-dwellers.

So yes–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 legislators who are far more responsive to rabid rural culture warriors than to the majority of American voters.  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 fair and equal representation and those distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim or flatten a tire.

Think about it again when our public schools are once again shortchanged.

Then tell your state Representative or Senator that you will work tirelessly to defeat any legislator who supports yet another Hoosier gerrymander.


  1. It’s much worse than that since we send reps to D.C. that also don’t represent Hoosiers. It’s why people don’t bother voting anymore. They’ve given up.

    The hypocrisy is the GOP base are the ones who distrust our government the most, but when you look at the most blatant crookedness, you always have a Republican.

    Both political parties are frauds as they work to empower their donors. Still, when you consider property lines and property taxes, I wonder if a tax protest would get the attention of the whores in the statehouse. Not sure about anyone else, but with all the games being played by our political class for their rulers, if our votes are being abused, the only legitimate protest is not paying taxes and filing a lawsuit under taxation without representation.

    I remember that issue leading to a revolution once. It worked too!

  2. Our crumbling infrastructure is the perfect metaphor for our governments inadequacy to address the issues that face our country now and in the future.

  3. I have lived at my present address (part of Crider’s district) for 16 years; a very small development in the shadow of the Raytheon facility with one entrance/exit from East 16th Street to our few blocks of low to struggling middle-income homes. Since the last census the median age, racial balance, number of school age children, increase in rental homes has changed as our infrastructure continues to crumble due to being ignored. For questionable reasons (I believe the low mortgage rates to be the culprit); the sale price of a few homes in here reached above $100,00 due to bidding wars. The fast sale of homes has slowed to a crawl; what surprises are in store for us regarding property taxes when reassessment is done? How will the assessments of long standing residents be effected by the overpriced homes sold for that brief time period?

    I have mentioned in the past about the total resurfacing of of South Franklin Road through Crider’s rural district area; acres of farmland, a few expensive homes, entrances to a few higher priced housing developments and a few businesses. A few other streets throughout this east side area have patches of resurfacing, remaining areas are crumbling, while the highly traveled residential and business areas have the same cracked streets with the same pot holes repeatedly filled only to be worn away. This is all part of Crider’s district but since the loss of our City Councilor Mary Moriarty- Adams who walked our streets, we continue to be ignored. How deeply into Crider’s pockets are our City and County Councilors (with a Democratic majority) who now have more and more responsibility for making decisions regarding investment of tax dollars in neighborhoods which will be based on Trump’s race-based census? We have already been told of the changing racial balance but that the number of residents has not changed to warrant addition of another Representative.

    To repeat my past comments regarding Indiana’s Public Employee Retirement Fund situation and the connection to Crider; the billions in that fund were given over (privatized/outsourced) to State Street Retirement Services to disburse our monthly checks in 2017. During the spring Congressional session; the House voted to continue our once a year 13th Check with an added $50 per check and the Indiana Senate ended the check in lieu of a 1% COLA which cuts our yearly retirement amounts for all public employee retirees. Crider has much to answer for before gerrymandering even begins.

  4. If Indiana had even a semi-effective Democratic Party apparatus, I would recommend that they begin by organizing small cadres in each county to pound the pavement with policies and names, but no party labels. Make those names recognizable and show how the policies solve problems that are endemic to both rural and urban areas.

  5. Peggy; a sad commentary on the current political system throughout this country is the end of candidates and their campaign staff members “pounding the pavement”; going to the source of the needs of Americans in our neighborhoods.

  6. But are they really favoring the rural areas or just a caricature of them? They might be getting nice roads, but their populations are shrinking, they are behind on internet access, educational access, and job opportunities.

  7. Obama has proven that the Hoosier state is not a red state, contrary to public opinion. He did it by Organization! Organization! Organization! As Todd rightly suggests, it’s despair among Democratic voters who are told that as voters in Indiana’s Republican-gerrymandered districts theirvote doesn’t really count for anything. Wrong.

    Gerrymandering at best only technically applies to certain legislative offices state and federal, so those Democrats who do not vote are helping to elect Republicans across the board both state and federal due to their despair after being told their votes don’t count, resulting in minority control of the state’s policial apparatus through the unexpressed will of the people.

    To do? Organize! Organize! Organize!

  8. I remember a time, not that long ago, when Democrats drew the Indiana House district lines and had about 60 of the 100 seats despite getting about 43% of the vote. So I’m not sure Republicans are better at gerrymandering. What has allowed gerrymandering to be more effective is the advancement of technology. Since Republicans hold control in most state legislatures they have been able to take advantage of those technology advances. I don’t think Republicans are necessarily more talented at gerrymandering than Democrats, or less reluctant to use it.

    One of the thing the Star’s writer completely missed is that there is an unholy alliance between Republicans and black Democrats when it comes to drawing district lines. The law requires that majority black or hispanic districts be drawn whenever possible. Republicans love this legal requirement because it allows them to pack more Democratic-leaning voters into fewer districts. More black Democrats are elected, but fewer over all.

    The author of the article too fails to recognize limits on gerrymandering. A classic example is the Indianapolis City-County Council map which has given us 80% Democratic representation (20 of 25) on the city’s legislative body. Earlier in that decade, that map, currently in use, was drawn for Republican control by political operative David Brooks (husband of former congresswoman Susan Brooks.). But he had to cut the margins so close on the Republican districts those GOP incumbents didn’t survive the changing demographics and voting patterns in the city during subsequent elections. I said at the time that Indy Democrats would come to love Brook’s map and sure enough they did.

    While Republicans control the map-making statewide, I doubt they can improve on their current numbers. They are also faced with the the Indy suburbs turning more blue, especially Hamilton County, and increased rural (and Republican) turnout that may not hold in non-Trump elections. Also, the Hoosier GOP numbers are actually down significantly during the Trump era. Most likely this new map will be about solidifying the GOP majority, not expanding it.

    What I would be most worried about if I were Democrats is the Republican-dominated legislature turning Indiana Congressional 1 into a Republican district by splitting it up. That is very possible.

    As far as legal challenges go, you can’t challenge a map because is heavily favors one political party. Partisan gerrymandering is still legal according to the Supreme Court. So you have to come up with another theory…such as splitting up communities of interest. While those legal challenges are uphill climbs, virtually every redistricting plan seems to end up in litigation. But, again, you can’t win a lawsuit by simply arguing a gerrymander is politically unfair.

  9. Jmartinkoko; those areas I mentioned on South Franklin Road in Indianapolis are former farmlands, cornfields, soy bean fields and green spaces. Those entrances into housing developments are above middle-income, large landscaped homes, many have retention ponds with “water front” homes. They are heavily populated rural areas; meaning outside of both urban and suburban areas of Indianapolis. Their populations are not shrinking in all “rural” areas and they have every modern convenience and electronic device available. That is why the access roads to so many of them are well maintained and resurfaced. They are also somewhat isolated; everyone needs a car for transportation to distantly located shopping, medical care, entertainment and access to jobs.

    Living in the “country” has a new meaning today. And probably populated primarily by Republicans escaping areas of minorities and crime.

  10. This is nothing but political segregation and another form of apartheid . It’s how conservative white people keep their legislative power.

    I will still vote no matter what. I am thankful that my representive and Senator in the state legislature are both democrats.

    What’s really sad is that rural people think the GOP will stand for them. They don’t understand that Indiana’s failure to move in response to the warming climate is going to further damage their farming economies due to drought caused by climate change. The GOP is also not going to help them with health care access and better education for their children.

  11. Paul – One difference – Tom Delay – He did a second redistricting in 2003; the Democrats thought it “too unseemly” to respond in kind. They should have put Henry Hyde and Dennis Hastert into Jesse Jackson’s district, just because.

    Question for lawyers – in the imaginary world where laws can pass, is it possible to create a statistical rule, saying for instance that if the percentage of one party in the congressional delegation varies from the percentage that party received overall in the state congressional elections by X percent (5 or 10) that it would constitute political gerrymandering, which would be illegal and trigger a redistricting with judicial oversight? That wouldn’t end gerrymandering, but it would limit it a bit.

  12. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion surrounding the upcoming redistricting, Sheila. Looks like you are flunking your first year of retirement!
    At The Indiana Citizen (www.indianacitizen.org) we have been trying to add some sunshine to the goal of “fair maps drawn in the sunshine.” We just launched a communications campaign called “Racial Justice Requires Fair Maps” to underscore the correlation between a representative legislature–according to the 2020 census almost a quarter of Hoosiers are non-white, but only 10% of the General Assembly are–and the policy choices that are and are not made by the current supermajority.
    The just-released calendar certainly indicates the supermajority is using the 2011 playbook to ram through another grossly gerrymandered set of maps. We think gerrymandering is the biggest contributor to Indiana’s consistent ranking among the bottom 10 of states for turnout.
    So what will keep them from doing it again?
    Maybe, just maybe, fear of the outrage that will follow.
    (That’s the born-again idealist in me talking.)

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