The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, May 02, 2021 1:00 am

Editorial

Citizen voice would add equity in redistricting

One piece of business remained undone when lawmakers left the Statehouse last month. They are expected to return this fall, after reapportionment data is available, to approve the legislative and congressional maps in effect for the next decade. But lawmakers also left undone another much-needed piece of business: a better process for drawing those maps.

All IN for Democracy, a coalition of Indiana groups seeking to put map-drawing in the hands of an independent redistricting commission, will show them how to do it. With software available to anyone interested in participating, the Citizens Redistricting Commission will hold a competition with cash prizes for maps that best meet the criteria identified in public testimony as important in creating electoral districts.

The coalition's maps will offer voters a contrast between the work of an independent redistricting commission and that of the Republican legislators who now have the power to draw districts to their own benefit. Indiana will again have nine congressional districts, based on census data released last month, but the state's modest population growth and its residents' relocation within Indiana will dictate how districts are redrawn. The same is true for Statehouse districts, the number of which are set by statute.

More than 100 Hoosiers from across the state participated in a virtual meeting Thursday to learn about Districtr.org, software created by researchers at Tufts University. It allows anyone to tap into demographic and census information to identify communities of interest and ensure the votes there are not split among different districts.

That's not the case currently. A Zionsville resident noted his own community was split into multiple Indiana House districts because “there was such a rich Republican seat.” That's the practice of “cracking,” where a surplus of one party's voters are spread among multiple districts. That's paired with “packing,” where the votes of the minority party are drawn into one district to limit competition. Fort Wayne offers a perfect example of that practice in Rep. Phil GiaQuinta's District 80, the only Indiana House district held by a Democrat in northeast Indiana.

Ranjan Rohatgi, a mathematics/computer science faculty member at Saint Mary's College and a member of the redistricting commission, said statewide help is needed to identify communities of interest because they are “vitally important.”

“They are the reason we don't just have computer programs draw districts that just look nice, or give us proportionality, because we really want – as much as possible – to not dilute communities that want to stay together,” he said.

Tom Hayhurst, a Fort Wayne physician and former city councilman, is an alternate to the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission. He said the mapping information shared last week was helpful. He said he wanted to be involved out of concern for gerrymandering's effect on democracy.

“You only have a choice in Indiana of the right or the far right,” Hayhurst said. “In Massachusetts or Hawaii, it's the left or the far left. The more moderate candidates are just pushed aside from the start. I think gradually it's going to turn off more and more voters and it's damaging to the future of democracy in our country.”

The General Assembly will reconvene this year to approve maps. Between now and then, voters should acquaint themselves with the important work of the independent redistricting commission and All IN for Indiana.


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