Tag Archives: gerrymandering

When Representation Doesn’t Represent

I used to joke about watching our wallets–and our liberties–when Indiana’s legislature was in session.

I wish that admonition could be dismissed as just a joke…

I’ve previously detailed some of the weird and worrisome bills introduced this session: Jim Lucas’ effort to give tax credits to the maniacs who purchase deadly weapons; the multitude of bills to steal funds from the state’s public schools; and  thinly-veiled efforts to ban Drag Queen Story Hours, among others.

I’ve also argued that these and many other bills are a dramatic departure from what was previously Republican orthodoxy. In my former party–a party that no longer exists–attempts to tell businesses what they can and cannot invest in or the criteria they should employ when making business decisions would have been unthinkable.

But here we are, with a GOP so radicalized that toxic Congresscritter Jim Banks has a head start in the race for Senate. 

One recent departure from prior GOP orthodoxy is a bill that would prevent the state’s public retirement system from working with banks or investing in funds that prioritize environmental, social or governance policies. That would include those that restrict investments in specified industries, such as coal or firearm manufacturers.

House Bill 1008 has been identified as “priority legislation” for the House Republicans caucus.

As Michael Leppert wrote in a recent column on the issue,

As reported by the New Jersey Monitor last summer, “Nineteen Republican state attorneys general wrote a letter to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which manages $10 trillion,” accusing “BlackRock of making decisions based on its alleged political agenda rather than the welfare of state pensions.” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita was among the signatories. 

If ESG investing is a political position, isn’t blocking or banning that investing also taking a political position? Of course, it is. 

It is the position of Republicans nationally to ignore climate change, and to oppose social progress and governance standards that consider it. SB 292 is the Indiana version of the national GOP political “platform,” if their grievance strategy can actually be called that. 

Last December, I quoted from a column from the Capital Chronicle that illustrated  how very unrepresentative our gerrymandered state legislature is.

Poll after poll and survey after survey shows what Indiana residents are worried about, and what they aren’t.

Bellwether Research’s latest poll in early December surveyed 1,100 Hoosiers representing both the demographic and geographic layout of Indiana. It asked about their top priorities.

Wishes one and two were lowering health care costs and affordable housing, at 31% and 21% respectively….Next up was increasing K-12 education funding at 17%. Nothing after is in double digits…

That poll also found that 56% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for personal use and 29% for medicinal purposes. Only 15% say it should not be legal. Another found that over 80% of Hoosier parents approved of their children’s school and curriculum.

And don’t get me started on the ban on abortion passed by state legislators despite  repeated polling confirming that Indiana citizens are pro-reproductive-choice by significant margins. Or the willingness of our despicable AG to pay an “extra” 100,000 to harass the doctor who aborted a raped ten-year-old. Or the absence of evidence that Hoosiers really want those legislators to pick on transgender children.

As I noted in that December post–okay, as I’ve noted repeatedly–the enormous disconnect between what Hoosier voters actually want and what we get from our culture warrior lawmakers is a direct result of the extreme gerrymandering that produces safe seats and allows lawmakers to ignore the demonstrated policy preferences of a majority of Indiana citizens.

Gerrymandering, after all, is the very best voter suppression tactic. Why bother to vote when the result has been foreordained–or, to use Trump language, when the election results have already been rigged? Gerrymandering amplifies the power of the fringes–the ideologues and culture warriors who vote in primaries–and effectively disenfranchises the rest of us.

Reporting on the antics at the Statehouse is one of the very few checks on lawmakers bent on pursing their own cultural fixations, and central Indiana has been ill-served by the Star’s devolution into sports and what has been called the “beer beat”–reports on new watering holes. That makes the arrival of the Indiana Capital Chronicle very welcome. The Chronicle describes itself as an “independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections.”

Information, unfortunately, isn’t enough. It will require national legislation to thwart Indiana gerrymandering, since the only way to stop it at the state level requires action from the same politicians who benefit from it.

Hoosiers will see state-level reform at about the same time as we see pigs fly.

Minority Rule, Courtesy of Gerrymandering

In addition to its website, Talking Points Memo sends out a morning newsletter to subscribers. A few days ago, that newsletter (paywall) included two paragraphs that sum up the single biggest challenge facing American democracy.

The success of the abortion rights coalition in ballot initiatives from Kentucky to Michigan showed that abortion can be just as powerful an incentive to vote for those who support abortion access as for those who oppose it.

For many House Republicans, that shift would, in another world, alter their behavior. With majorities in even deeply red states supporting abortion access, you’d expect these lawmakers to moderate their position. But thanks to the dearth of competitive House districts due to cumulative years of gerrymandering, many of them have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than a general election against a Democrat.

I have frequently posted about the effects of gerrymandering. Probably the most damaging consequence is voter suppression; as I have often noted, people who live in a district considered “safe” for the party they don’t support lack an incentive to vote. When the disfavored party doesn’t turn out, that also depresses the votes for that party’s  candidates for statewide office.

Here in Indiana–a state that has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states in the country–our legislature is beginning a session in which the Republican super-majority continues to disregard the demonstrated priorities of its Hoosier constituents.

Several Republican lawmakers appear to oppose the Governor’s call to invest in the Hoosier state’s inadequate, struggling public health system. For that matter, there appears to be no appetite for confronting Indiana’s dismal ratings in a wide variety of quality of life indicators. As Hoosier Democrats recently pointed out: 

Hoosiers have a F rated quality-of-life and the state has a D- rated workforce, a C- rated education system, the third worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, and the country’s most polluted waterways. It appears Republicans will once again ignore the warning signs from Indiana’s top business leaders and their taxpayer-funded reports and instead choose to focus on their extreme agenda.

CNBC lists Indiana as one of the ten worst states in which to live.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve posted on just one part of that extreme agenda, the GOP’s war on public education. Other efforts include our lawmakers’ continuing war on LGBTQ Hoosiers– especially on  trans kids and anyone in the medical community who dares to serves them.

Indiana isn’t alone, unfortunately.

In 2015, two political scientists– Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern–published a study concluding that the preferences of US voters barely matter. Or as they put it, “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”…

Gilens and “a small army of research assistants” compiled nearly 2,000 polls and surveys that asked for opinions about a proposed policy change. Since he wanted to separate out the preferences of economic elites and average citizens, he only used surveys that asked about respondents’ income. He found 1,779 poll results that fit that description, spanning from 1981 to 2002. Then he took the answers of median-income voters to represent what average voters think, and the answers of respondents at the 90th income percentile to represent what economic elites think.

Next, the authors had to measure what interest groups thought about all of those issues. They decided to use Fortune magazine’s yearly “Power 25” lists of the most influential lobbying groups, but since it “seemed to neglect certain major business interests,” they added the ten industries that had reported the most spending on lobbying. Their final list includes 29 business groups, several major unions, and other well-known interest groups like the AARP, the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the American Legion, and AIPAC. Each interest group’s position on those 1,779 policy change proposals were coded, along with how strongly each group felt about each proposal. The results were combined to assess how interest groups in general, felt.

The study found that average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or organized interest groups also want it…

In contrast, the preferences of economic elites and interest groups — especially economic elites — are each quite influential.

In dramatically gerrymandered Indiana, the clear preferences/warnings of the state’s largest businesses and growing tech sector are routinely disregarded in favor of  the “influential elites” who evidently believe that low taxes are a more attractive economic development tool than a reasonable quality of life–a belief with which CNBC begs to differ.

Indiana’s super-majority does listen to the well-organized religious fundamentalists whose policy preferences repel the high-skilled workers our economy needs. 

As long as they can gerrymander, our unrepresentative representatives are safe from democracy– and their constituents.



Oh, Indiana….

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.

Another “Be Careful What You Wish For”

As regular readers of this blog know, I am firmly convinced that gerrymandering is at the root of many–if not most–of America’s electoral dysfunctions. As a result of that conviction, and my general nerdiness, I have often consulted the Princeton Electoral Innovation Lab and especially its gerrymandering project, run by Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

Wang recently authored a very interesting analysis of the likely results of a win for the “independent state legislature” theory, a theory being advanced by Republicans in the upcoming Supreme Court case of Moore v. Harper. 

The GOP argument–dismissed by most legal observers as essentially wack-a-doodle–would re-interpret and greatly expand the effect of constitutional language granting state legislatures authority over elections.That language has always been understood to mean that the legislature passes state election laws, but that, just as with other laws, whatever they pass has to be consistent with their own state constitutions–meaning that those laws can be overturned by a court or vetoed by a governor. Proponents of the Independent State Legislature theory argue that the language  gives absolute authority to state legislatures, and that whatever they pass cannot be overturned by courts or vetoed by Governors.

Given the ideological makeup and ethical deficiencies of our rogue Supreme Court, its acceptance of the case has produced significant angst in the political and legal communities.

Endorsement of the theory would strike a devastating blow against the checks and balances that constrain governmental shenanigans.  Winning the freedom to evade democratic rules–freedom to rig elections– may make the Republicans who are arguing for the theory happy, but Wang shows that if the Court accepts it, it will actually end up benefitting Democrats.

His explanation–accompanied by graphs you should really click through to see, is as follows:

But if the Republicans win in the U.S. Supreme Court, the result on a national scale would almost certainly benefit Democrats. Why? Because outside North Carolina, only swing states and blue states have curbed partisan gerrymandering. In Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Virginia, this was done through the intervention of governors or voting-rights-minded state courts; in Arizona, California, Michigan and Colorado, citizen initiatives gave redistricting authority to independent commissions.

One way to see the Democrats’ likely advantage: In the 2020 presidential election, the 12 states where districts were drawn by courts or independent commissions gave 184 electoral votes to Joe Biden and only 15 electoral votes (those from North Carolina) to Donald Trump.

A win for Moore would potentially unleash all those states to redistrict at will. In contrast, in 19 states where Republicans already have legislative control of redistricting, many partisan gains are maxed out, and nothing would change.

Wang’s laboratory analyzed the effects of the Court’s acceptance of arguments being made on behalf of the theory, examining partisan possibilities in each state, and concluded that  “election maps completely controlled by state legislatures would change the overall balance of congressional seats in Democrats’ favor.”

Wang explains that there are two possible analytical paths to a Court endorsement of the Independent state legislature theory.  If they chose the first, it would liberate several Democratic states to gerrymander by removing state court authority. (He points out that just this year, New York courts struck down that state’s pro-Democratic gerrymander.)

Democrats would also gain power if independent citizen commissions were struck down. In 2010, citizens gave an independent commission power over congressional redistricting in deep-blue California, with the support of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. Since then, Michigan and Colorado, two states now controlled by Democrats, have also formed independent commissions. Striking down these three commissions would give Democrats the ability to draw themselves up to a dozen additional seats.

Both liberal and conservative legal scholars have overwhelmingly argued against the independent state legislature doctrine. As Wang notes, proponents of this very novel theory are “hoping to find a receptive audience in a reactionary and increasingly activist Supreme Court.”

He also observes that–should the Court hand down a decision repudiating the theory–Republicans should consider themselves lucky.

The last time I argued that the GOP should be careful what they wished for, I was predicting  a huge anti-GOP backlash to the over-ruling of Roe v. Wade. The data emerging from the midterm elections–where the anticipated “Red wave” was held to a trickle– confirmed the potency of that response.

I am not rooting for the Court to adopt a ridiculous mis-reading of a Constitutional provision. Such a result would be enormously dangerous; it would dramatically erode American democracy. Gerrymandering doesn’t suddenly become less anti-democratic when it’s being done by my preferred team.

But the result Wang predicts would serve the Rightwing a-holes right…


A Bit Far Out…But…

Anyone who follows politics in today’s U.S. of A. is aware that gerrymandering is at the root of much of what ails us. There’s a reason Democrats have a chance to retain Senate control in the upcoming midterms: Senate races cannot be gerrymandered. (Okay, the fact that several GOP candidates are wacko has helped.) If voting majorities decided the composition of the House of Representatives, Democrats would easily hold that chamber–but political scientists tell us that barely a handful of House districts are currently competitive. They’ve been gerrymandered by both parties, but mostly by the GOP.

I’ve written (a lot) about the issues raised by gerrymandering, and I won’t repeat the litany here (although I encourage you to read my academic paper analyzing those issues–and weep…).

Thus far, our highly politicized U.S. Supreme Court has declined to get involved, piously declaring gerrymandering to be “a political question.” So a recent ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court wasn’t just a breath of fresh air–it was a light at the end of a dark tunnel. (Okay, I’ll quit the hokey metaphors, but I really, really loved this court’s conclusion!) Here’s the lede:

In a remarkable decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that because the state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Republican lawmakers may have lacked the power to approve amendments to the state constitution and put them before voters.

The decision, which the court’s 4-3 Democratic majority issued along party lines, stopped short of granting the plaintiffs’ requests to strike down two amendments passed by Republicans in 2018—one to require photo voter ID and another to cap any state income tax at 7%. The justices instead returned the case to the trial court for further findings, though its framing of the dispute indicates that there’s a strong likelihood the state courts will ultimately invalidate the amendments.

The court’s conclusion was buttressed by the fact that a large number of the state’s legislative districts had been struck down in 2017; the federal courts found they had been racially drawn to discriminate against Black voters.

However, Republicans who had been elected under the unconstitutional maps used their supermajorities to place their amendments on the ballot the following year, when they were ultimately approved by voters.

The heart of the argument was the legitimacy of actions taken by illegitimate lawmakers:

The plaintiffs, who are backed by the NAACP, made the unusual—but not unprecedented—argument that the GOP’s widespread illegal gerrymandering rendered the legislature a “usurper” that legally lacked the power to amend North Carolina’s foundational governing document because it had “lost its claim to popular sovereignty.” A lower court agreed in 2019 by striking down the two amendments, but a 2-1 Republican majority on the state Court of Appeals reversed that ruling along party lines in 2020, leading the plaintiffs to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The decision sending the case back to the trial court instructed that court to consider three questions: whether the amendments that were subject to the protest  would “immunize legislators … from democratic accountability,” whether they would “further the exclusion of a particular class of voters from the democratic process,” or whether those amendments were  intended to discriminate against the same type of voters who had been discriminated against by the illegal gerrymandering. If the trial court found the answer to any one of these three questions be “yes,” s/he would be “require[d]” to strike down the amendments.

I was particularly struck by the first question, addressing “democratic accountability.” 

In Indiana, it is a given that our statehouse is occupied by lawmakers lacking that “democratic accountability.” A number of academic studies have ranked the state among the five most gerrymandered in the country. It’s been a long time since I studied Indiana’s Constitution, but I do recall that Part Two, Section 1 declares that  “All elections shall be free and equal.” I also remember the (very strained) decision in Bush v. Gore to the effect that voting must pass an “equal protection” standard.

How equal are the votes of gerrymandered Hoosiers? How “democratically accountable” are the lawmakers who hold their positions thanks to the very denial of that equal protection?

In gerrymandered Indiana, we have plenty of evidence that rural ballots count more than urban ones. The citizens who reside in “blue” cities have less voice in state government than the citizens who live in the “red” exurbs and rural precincts of the state. How is this situation “free and equal”?

Calling on the Hoosier state’s creative lawyers…