Of all the forces shaping our politics today, gerrymandering stands alone as the least discussed and most consequential one.
And today, after Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, it’s a constitutional way for lawmakers to choose their voters instead of the other way around.
Gerrymandering is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “To divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”
This method is as old as the republic. The term itself was created in the early 19th century in Boston, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry redrew state legislative districts to his Democratic-Republican party’s advantage. One of the districts resembled a salamander. Thus, the combination Gerry and salamander, gerrymander, was coined.
This favored Republicans in races across the country in 2016, The Associated Press reported in 2017.
“The AP analysis also found that Republicans
won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country,” reported the AP’s David A. Leib. “That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority that stood at 241-194 over Democrats after the 2016 elections — a 10 percentage point margin in seats, even though Republican candidates received just 1 percentage point more total votes nationwide.”
In our state, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and then-Senate President Pro Tempore David Long of Fort Wayne promised to address the issue years ago. Yet, a bill that would’ve created an independent, bipartisan commission of both elected officials and members of the public to assist in ensuring district lines that account for population, racial and ethnic diversity, has gone nowhere in the General Assembly session after session after session.
For whatever reason, the Committee on Elections and Apportionment hasn’t seen this problem as a problem at all. A majority of the Supreme Court doesn’t either.
Both Democrats and Republicans have benefited from gerrymandering in the past. In 2021, the Indiana GOP is set to reap the rewards again if nothing is done.
We hope the Hoosier GOP’s House and Senate leaders make good on their promise of pushing the bipartisan independent commission idea forward before then. Short-term gains for one party or another shouldn’t come before voters’ rights to be represented equitably.