Of all the forces shaping our politics today, gerrymandering stands alone as the least discussed and most consequential.
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 drew up new 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 pointed 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, former Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives Brian Bosma promised to address the issue. Yet, a bill which would address it never even made it to committee in his last session as speaker.
Or during the previous session. Or the session before that one, or the one before that or the one before that.
“I started this with a checklist of things we wanted to accomplish for Indiana: [school] choice for children and families, turning Indiana’s economy around, having a real, balanced budget,” Bosma said last year, announcing his retirement before the start of the 2020 session. “We’ve accomplished all of these things.”
House Elections and Apportionment Committee Chairman Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who retired in 2018, and new chairman, Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, haven’t seen this redistricting 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 2021.
We had hoped former Speaker Bosma would make good on his promise of pushing the bipartisan independent commission idea forward. Today, we can only hope another Republican picks up that legislative baton Bosma dropped and keeps this discussion alive.
Short-term gains for one party or the other shouldn’t come before voters’ rights to be represented equitably.