Monday evening, I spoke to the League of Women Voters in Ft. Wayne about women, the midterms–and the effective disenfranchisement of voters in Indiana. I’m posting an abbreviated version of my remarks below.
The results of the 2022 midterm elections stunned political observers who had anticipated a politics-as-usual rout of the party in control of the White House—especially this time, when the omens for the Democrats were very negative.
As we know, that Red wave failed to materialize. Democrats held the Senate, and lost the House by a margin small enough to complicate Republican plans to thwart Biden’s agenda. To say that these results were unprecedented is an understatement. And while it is never accurate to attribute the outcome of an election to a single cause, the data clearly points to the overwhelming importance of women voters, and their anger over Dobbs.
The Republican Party’s war on women’s autonomy is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights, and I decisively won a Republican primary here in deep-Red Indiana. Since then, the GOP has become the party of fundamentalist Christians, cultural conservatives and Christian Nationalists, and in response, women voters have shown a growing preference for Democratic candidates. The Dobbs decision, overruling Roe v. Wade, supercharged what was already a substantial gender gap.
Dobbs attacked the doctrine of substantive due process, often called the right to privacy. That’s shorthand for the principle that in a free society, there are personal decisions that should not be made by government. The doctrine draws a line between the myriad issues appropriate for resolution by majorities acting through government, and decisions that government in a free society has no business making.
The constitutional question is “who gets to make this decision?”
The deeply dishonest ruling in Dobbs would allow fundamental rights–to bodily autonomy, to the choice of a marriage partner, to decisions about procreation– to be decided by legislatures that have theoretically been chosen by “democratic” majorities.
I say “theoretically because in states like Indiana, gerrymandering allows lawmakers to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.
The decision in Dobbs is part of a larger problem—one that the League is clearly aware of. I think it is fair to say that, if American democracy was working properly, it is unlikely we would be here. Our governing institutions would reflect the policy preferences of large majorities of voters. But our democracy is not working properly, and gerrymandering may be the single most destructive element of our multiple electoral dysfunctions.
Partisan redistricting undermines democracy and voter choice; in a rapidly urbanizing country, it has given rural voters—who reliably vote Republican—vastly disproportionate political power. Thanks to gerrymandering, for example, the last Republican Senate “majority” was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic “minority.” Gerrymandering has insulated lawmakers from democratic accountability. In the run-up to the 2000 election, the nonpartisan Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a genuinely competitive Congressional District.
Gerrymandering has also weakened the GOP and abetted its takeover by extremists. Thanks to the Republicans’ very skillful and successful national gerrymander in 2010–a redistricting that created a large number of deep-red Congressional districts– many of the candidates who won those districts no longer saw any reason to cooperate with national party figures, or work for the party’s national priorities. Former Speaker John Boehner dubbed those Representatives the “lunatic caucus”–they knew that the only real threat to their re-election would come from being primaried by someone even farther to the Right, and that they would pay no price for ignoring the over-arching needs of the national party.
It is important to recognize that the erosion of democratic self-government– making a mockery of the ideal of “one person, one vote”– also poses a threat to women’s continued economic and political progress. That is because, as democratic systems falter, it is the theocrats and rightwing populists who stand ready to assume control. The growth of populism over the past decade has been global; in the United States, its appeal is based largely on nostalgia for an imaginary past in which “those people”—Black, Brown, female, gay–knew their place and no one questioned the rightful dominance of the White Christian Male. To say that such a worldview threatens women’s progress is to belabor the obvious.
Just over 100 years have passed since women finally secured the right to vote. The recent midterm elections made it very clear that most women in America have no intention of relinquishing the hard-won rights that followed enfranchisement– including the all-important right to control our own reproduction.
I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that in November of this year, the votes of American women saved democracy.
But then, of course, there was Indiana. We were the only state to elect an election-denier as Secretary of State, and Indiana kept its legislative Republican super-majority
The reason Indiana is deeply uncompetitive? Gerrymandering.
I served on the legislative study committee formed in response to the efforts of the League and Common Cause, and watched as most Republicans on that committee ignored data and evidence and the huge turnout of Hoosier voters at every public meeting who demanded reform. It became very clear that the beneficiaries of gerrymandering will never voluntarily give up the power to keep themselves in control.
Other states have combatted gerrymandering via state constitutional amendment. But Hoosiers will never have the opportunity to vote on such an amendment. Indiana has no referendum or initiation process. Amendments to Indiana’s constitution can only be put on the ballot through referral from the legislature, and the legislature must pass precisely the same language in two separate sessions. In other words, the super-majority that benefits from gerrymandering would have to vote—in two separate legislative sessions—to put the matter to a popular vote.
That will happen when pigs fly. (Pigs may fly first…)
Gerrymandering results in voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Thanks to the lack of competitiveness, Indiana’s turnout in the midterms was abysmal.
The creation of safe districts makes it very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal opposing candidate. In many statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor runs unopposed.
So–what can Hoosier voters do?
We can certainly hope for passage of the federal “For the People Act,” which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.
In Indiana, we can work through organizations like the League to get out the vote—encouraging people who have concluded that their votes won’t count to reconsider, and especially encouraging them to vote in the primaries, which are dominated by the ideological extremes in both parties. A high turnout would demonstrate that a number of supposedly safe districts aren’t so safe when more people vote..
We can try to recruit candidates in both parties who are willing to run on an anti-gerrymandering platform.
We can continue efforts to educate voters, and explain why gerrymandering is so pernicious.
And we can lobby for the right to initiate constitutional amendments.
But the reality is, in the absence of federal action, Indiana citizens who want change are effectively disenfranchised.
15 thoughts on “Oh, Indiana….”
“But the reality is, in the absence of federal action, Indiana citizens who want change are effectively disenfranchised.”
But those at the federal level did NOT begin there; they began in local and state positions and worked their way up with local yokels promoting them through the political ranks. “We have met the enemy and it is us!” Remember that at Primary time; the election most people ignore as not being worth their effort.
Republicans will eventually learn to deal with abortion as a political issue and put Democrats on the spot in terms of their own extreme views on the subject. But abortion was far from universally a good issue for the Ds this midterm. In several states, Republican candidates did very well despite taking some pretty extreme positions on abortion. Examples are Florida, Ohio, Arkansas, and Indiana (where the Rs gained state house seats and had statewide candidates win by larger majorities than in the last mid-term…despite taking an almost absolutist position on abortion.)
Rather the one issue that resonated across the board this election wasn’t abortion, but election denialism, i.e Trumpism. That lost everywhere. Even in Ohio, Vance’s numbers were way down compared to comparable candidates.
I agree with you on gerrymandering although I would point out that both parties do it and being able to draw the lines is not a guarantee of a majority. Republicans drew the lines in Michigan and this past election the Democrats won both chambers using the Republican map.
I remember learning about gerrymandering in my high school civics class and being repelled by the practice. Is there nothing in the U.S. Constitution that can be used to combat this pernicious practice? What happened to protection against disenfranchisement?
Paul, you’re mistaken about Michigan. Thanks to a citizens ballot initiative circa 2018, redistricting for the most recent election was done by a non-partisan citizens committee.
The incoming Democratic majorities in the statehouse are largely due to a redrawn map that for the first time in decade or more isn’t drawn explicitly to strategically maximize Republican power. Of course, it also helped that the MAGA-dominated Republicans selected some buffoonishly awful candidates for statewide office.
Paul: Are you sure the Republicans drew the lines for this past election? Michigan lost an electoral vote as their population shrank in the past 10 years, thus the Congressional districts were redrawn. The voters took the power to redistrict away from the parties this time around and gave it to a voting commission…..don’t know the exact name. Anyway, here’s an article from CNN explaining it better than I can.
Needless to say this is what Indiana (all states really) should be doing and I’m sure Sheila has been advocating for….for quite some time I’m sure.
Two of the states you cite were redistricted in a manner that might be called extreme. Florida’s was not even in accordance with its own state constitution. In Ohio, the state supreme court rejected the new map, but then said it was too late to change. Arkansas and Indiana are two states that have been doing this for so long, most of their residents don’t vote any more. Look at the deep red states that either initiatives that would have enshrined anti abortion rhetoric into law. Even Mississippi residents don’t want the life begins at conception law.
A national study on gerrymandering shows Democrats picking up one or two seats in Congress for this practice.
70% want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare up thru primarily the first 8-12 weeks.
In mist states we see that those that don’t include exceptions for incest in rape lose elections.
Womens right to vote was secured by Christian women marching in the streets upsetting the status quo. Now many of them are marching to change the attitude about abortion. abortion is in decline because more are choosing to keep their babies and the use of contraceptives are up.
To say a ruling by this SCOTUS is “deeply dishonest” is a redundancy. Just look at who nominated this evil ideologues to the court: REPUBLICANS. The Republican-nominated “Justices” goes back to the Ronnie days, i.e., when Sheila says the GOP was rational. It was not. Not ever.
The Republican party has been trying to kill all the New Deal legislation since it was enacted in 1933-34. Overturning the Glass-Steagal Act by the egregious Gingrich Congress was the precursor for the 2007-08 economic collapse where over $35 trillion was lost overnight. Think about that. It’s what Republicans do. Their pathetic ideas about “small government” and deregulation are precisely the machinations of fulfilling Karl Marx’s prophecy about capitalism.
Republicans have been lying to US and themselves since the day after Lincoln was shot. There is NO positive outcomes with Republicans in government. None. Never was. Only the wealthy benefit from Republican manipulations of our nation. Meanwhile, working people are treated like chattel to keep making the capitalists richer.
Sorry. There simply isn’t any rational way to apologize for Republicans in ANY capacity, least of all the Supreme Court.
What Vernon said X 1,000,000.
Further proof that women are smarter than men. I sometimes wonder what would happen if my gender simply stepped aside and let women run everything for a while. They couldn’t do any worse, and in fact would probably do far better.
I have been a voting Democrat since shortly after WW II but would have been a Republican in Lincoln’s day since the Solid South was not Democratic by accident, i. e., they were slaveholders and 10th Amendment nuts to the right of Atilla the Hun. Shortly before moving into the 20th century Republicans came up with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, hardly the act of Republicans we know today. Then something happened as we graduated from Teddy to Wilson, i.e., the parties changed fundamental positions in governing and, of course, FDR cemented that change with his New Deal, a set of governing policies that I still idolize.
I do not agree that Republicans have always been the political bad guys, though lately their party’s capture by cultist cretins gives me pause. As the old saying goes, pretty is as pretty does, and the Republicans of today as measured by their lack of concern for the common good are far from good looking.
Never fear. No doubt the Indiana Supreme Court can explain how our gerrymandered election districts conform to the “free and equal” clause in Article 2, Section 1, of the Indiana Constitution.
Gerrymandering affects the House but not the Senate. You could argue that voter suppression affects the Senate and that less populous states like the Dakotas, Wyoming, Maine and Alaska having the same number of senators as California and New York is unfair and you would be right. But that isn’t attributable to gerrymandering. It’s a function of our antiquated constitution and system that capitulated to the southern slave owning states
From your lips to deaf ears? Lol, without a doubt!
How many times has the solution to a seemingly impossible problem been identified? The discussion, oops, I guess there hasn’t been a discussion, because everyone’s so afraid! Afraid of what? Authoritarian decisions? An authoritarian edict? What’s wrong with that. If you don’t trust the people that you’ve put in office, then why bother complaining about anything.
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
Fear is a scary thing though isn’t it? Fear can make a person irrational, fear can paralyze! And, aren’t we irrational now? Aren’t we paralyzed now? Absolutely.
POTUS can fix everything with a simple edict, he could suspend habeas corpus, he can suspend Congress for that matter. His emergency powers include emergencies, His authority is absolute, go figure! And I believe we are in an emergency situation as we communicate on this blog.
When he reconstitutes SCOTUS, he can add Justices to the court.
During that time, you can fix the gun problem, he can fix the pollution problem, he could do a lot of things, and he can do it in a way that can’t be overturned. So, what’s the holdup? Woulda coulda shoulda, that’s the epitaph it’s going to be written for future explorers wondering how a supposedly intellectual species allowed this to happen! That goes to show that humanity is not quite the intellectual species that we believe we are!
You have to be brave, even the Bible detests cowardice. Stand up for the right thing, and keep that mindset, the right thing will happen.
Again, Sheila – sorry –
“primaries, which are dominated by the ideological extremes in both parties.”
An extremist on the GOP side – anti-Democratic, pro-autocracy bigot.
An extremist on the Dem side – believes that FDR was right and Clinton was wrong.
Yes, we could compare them, but really?
Otherwise, I couldn’t agree more with the gist of your talk to the League.
Paul has already been chastised for trying to fit the wrong facts to his preferred argument.
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