Of all the forces shaping our politics today, gerrymandering stands alone as the least discussed and most consequential one.
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 Governor 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.
As the Associated Press story published in today’s paper points out, though, this favored Republicans in races across the country in 2016.
“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, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives Brian Bosma (R-Indianpolis) and President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate David Long (R-Fort Wayne) promised to address the issue. Yet, a bill which would address it never even made it to committee.
“A legislative study committee chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, looked to fix the issue ahead of the upcoming redistricting in 2021 by recommending a bipartisan independent commission be used to determine political lines,” reported CNHI’s Christopher Stephens. “The bill, HB1014, was referred to the Committee on Elections and Apportionment in January but never received a vote. … Torr said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session ahead of the upcoming redistricting.”
For whatever reason, committee member State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, hasn’t seen this problem as a problem at all. Both Democrats and Republicans have benefited from gerrymandering in the past. This time, the state GOP is set to reap the rewards again in four years if nothing is done. We hope Bosma, Long and Torr 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.