Beverly Gard: Redistricting begs for integrity

Beverly Gard [email protected]

Readers will likely assume that I, as a Republican, will defend the process that has produced supermajorities for my party in both the Indiana Senate and House over much of the past decade. While Republicans do represent a majority of voters in Indiana, it is not proportional to the percentage represented by the supermajorities we see in the General Assembly. For instance, the Republican Attorney General won election with 58.3% of the vote in 2020 while Republicans won 73% of the seats in the General Assembly the same year.

When Republicans and Democrats have previously drawn redistricting maps, each party will state that they have adhered to guidelines of the United States Supreme Court while providing examples of how they have followed them. Closer scrutiny will show how the maps have been manipulated for the majority party’s benefit. This has been the practice of Democrats, when they hold a majority, as well as Republicans.

The basic criteria promulgated by the U.S. Supreme Court is sound; however, the Court has left it up to the states to set many of their own standards. In Indiana, much of the debate centers on the process of redistricting and the criteria used for redistricting.

Numerous proposals have been made to the General Assembly by outside interest groups on who should draw the maps and how redistricting should be conducted, but none have gained traction and most were flawed, avoiding important criteria that should be applied.

Basic criteria used by Republicans includes creating districts that are equal in population with minimal deviation. Attempting to keep communities of interest together has been important, although this standard has waned over the years. Districts have been drawn to be contiguous and, to the extent possible, have tried not to split existing political subdivisions. In past redistricting, it has been important not to dilute the minority vote based on race.

However, there are criteria that should be applied but have not been considered in past redistrictings. Eliminating the practice of using the permanent residence of sitting legislators to draw the district so that incumbent legislators can win is a step that must be implemented. In unbiased redistricting, the residence of a legislator never should be considered. Political fairness has never been a priority for either party, Republican or Democrat, during the redistricting process.

Transparency is essential for the voting public to have confidence in the redistricting process. While there is usually a road show by the redistricting party to seek input from the public, the criteria usually have been set at that point. Public input, concerning the redistricting process, needs to be sought much earlier in the process, and those in charge of redistricting should be forthright when discussing the criteria being used. Additionally, the public usually does not get to see the proposed maps until several days before they are voted on. By then, it’s too late for the public to do anything about it.

Gerrymandering is obvious when the public sees districts shaped like a horseshoe running through rural areas, surrounding a district comprised of a major metropolitan area. Numerous other obvious examples abound.

Computers are now used to draw the maps with criteria input by the majority party. With advancements in the capabilities of computer technology, algorithms have been developed that will draw impartial, completely unbiased maps based on criteria discussed here. This approach is far preferable to a “non-partisan” commission, which many have suggested, and has often been discussed but, in my opinion, can never exist.

This column represents merely the start of the detailed discussion that should be taking place. I can honestly say that the view from the outside looking in is quite different from the view from the inside looking out.

Beverly Gard is a former state senator who represented Hancock County for 24 years, from 1988 to 2012.