While Monroe County officials believe they are taking all necessary precautions to lessen the chance that any voter experiences voter suppression, there is one type of voter suppression affecting Bloomington, Monroe County and other Indiana voting races — gerrymandering.
Manipulating the boundaries of election districts to favor a certain party is something that has allegedly happened in the 9th congressional district, which includes portions of Monroe and surrounding counties. It’s something that concerns Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana, which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that works for open, honest and accountable government.
Vaughn, who appears in “UnCivil War: U.S. Elections under Siege,” talks about Bloomington and the 9th District and how the district boundaries were “radically changed” after the last U.S. Census. Those changes led to the incumbent, Peggy Welch, losing the election in 2012, Vaughn said. Welch also shares her views in the documentary.
“She talks about how she was a moderate and tried to serve the community,” Vaughn recalled. “The film does a really good job of explaining why this matters. I think sometimes people think that gerrymandering is inside baseball. They do a good job of explaining that you have to understand what happens behind the scenes.”
Common Cause Indiana and other groups have shown that when election boundaries are drawn by citizens, the districts are more equal and less likely to favor one political party over another. The election district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, after the latest Census numbers are reported.
In Indiana, the election district boundaries are drawn by a five-member panel with one of the members appointed by each of the majority and minority parties in the House and Senate. The fifth member is appointed by the governor. In 2001, Gov. Frank O’Bannon gave Democrats the upper hand. That changed in 2010, when Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed the fifth person.
That led to the 9th District, as well as several others in Indiana, being redrawn to favor the GOP, Vaughn said.
“(Gerrymandering) is most stark at the congressional level,” she said.
“We can’t be surprised when Indiana voter turnout isn’t good,” Vaughn said, recalling how engaged voters were in the 2008 presidential election. “People were so engaged in that race because it had been decades since our votes really mattered. ... Hoosier voters are like voters everywhere else; if our votes really count, we’re more than happy to participate. When it’s just a symbolic act, when you already know who is going to be elected, then voters think, ‘I don’t really need to participate in this.’ ”
While representation at the Statehouse shows about 70% to 80% of elected officials are Republican, Vaughn believes there’s a more even balance of Republican and Democrat voters across Indiana. That’s a belief she’s drawn after talking to people from cities to rural towns all across the Hoosier state.
“I think that by nature, Hoosiers are naturally more toward the middle of the road,” she said. “I think it’s a much more even balance across the state than what is represented in our Statehouse. It doesn’t feel like a state where three-quarters of the state are all on one side.”
While Vaughn believes gerrymandering is the most prevalent form of voter suppression in Indiana, she realizes that this general election is going to be different and more difficult for election workers across the nation since people will be sending in record numbers of absentee ballots, voting by mail, voting early and also voting on Election Day, Nov. 3.
“You have your voting in so many different baskets, you’re going to end up with some broken eggs,” Vaughn said.
Common Cause Indiana began receiving calls and emails in July from concerned Hoosier voters, she said. That’s months earlier than normal years.
“That just tells me that this is going to be a year like no other election,” Vaughn said. “I’ve never seen people so motivated to vote and yet so scared.”