By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — For 30 years, Edna Parkinson has supported the Republican Party as a fiscal conservative who was pro-life and believed in limited government.
Yet despite her staunch Republican background, Parkinson said she does not like seeing a large majority of right-leaning lawmakers in the House and Senate.
More than 200 Hoosiers rallied outside the Indiana Federal Courthouse Tuesday on the day of the hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Case Gill v. Whitford. It will decide whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
“To me, not having both sides represented doesn’t get things done,” Parkinson, of Indianapolis, said. “When one side is represented as a large percentage more than the other, well, that’s just not democracy.”
With chants of “hey, hey, ho, ho, gerrymandering has to go” filling the air outside the Indiana Federal Courthouse, Parkinson and more than two dozen Hoosiers rallied Tuesday.
The rally was the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Gill v. Whitford, which challenges the way Wisconsin’s legislative districts were redrawn following the last census. In 2012, Republicans, who had control Wisconsin’s legislature and governor’s office, crafted the district boundary lines to favor GOP candidates and ensure the party would hold into its political power.
In Indianapolis, those rallying against gerrymandering held signs that read, “the gerrymander ate my vote,” and “Indiana is backward because our election is rigged.”
“I love my party, I do, but every American’s voice deserves to be heard and the other party should have a say,” Parkinson said. “It’s not fair that these lawmakers can draw lines to benefit themselves because then those districts don’t represent all of their citizens because they don’t have a choice on who to vote for.”
Julia Vaughn, right, talks to rally goers about why gerrymandering hurts Americans. She says gerrymandering is fundamentally unfair. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision won’t directly affect gerrymandering laws in Indiana, Common Cause Policy Director Julia Vaughn said it will give citizens a more effective and constitutionally-sound argument when pushing legislation to ban party-based gerrymandering in the Hoosier state.
“Legislation is the only way gerrymandering will be fixed, and it’ll only be passed if tens of thousands of Hoosiers stand up and demand it,” Vaughn said. “We want to make it one of the biggest issues in the 2018 session.”
Vaughn argued gerrymandering is unfair because it doesn’t give both sides of the aisle a chance to be fairly and accurately represented.
“Democracy is at stake,” she said. “The future of our country, the partisan divide that we see, it’s so prevalent and in state legislatures across the country and can be traced back to gerrymandering districts.”
Voters are supposed to have control of who they put in office, Vaughn said, which is why she wants the General Assembly to pass legislation to stop gerrymandering to make elections more competitive.
A 2014 study by the Social Science Research Network said Indiana’s House districts are some of the worst gerrymandered in the country. The districts are redrawn every 10 years by whichever party holds majority, allowing them to draw the lines in a way that makes the seat uncontested or nearly guarantees them a win.
Indiana Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, controlling the House of Representatives 70-30 and the Senate 41-9.
Hoosiers hold signs in support of getting rid of gerrymandering in Indiana. They argue gerrymandering is unfair because it doesn’t give both sides of the aisle a chance to be fairly and accurately represented. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
Some states have addressed the issue by establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw the lines — a step Indiana tried to take during the 2017 legislative session. House Bill 1014, which would have created an independent redistricting panel, never made it out of the House committee. Chairman Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, did not call the bill for a vote, saying he thought it was an unfinished product.
Vaughn, Parkinson and other supporters of HB 1014 expect to see new legislation in 2018 that will force the lines to be drawn by a committee of Republicans, Independents and Democrats who must follow certain criteria that Vaughn hopes to see written in legislation.
“We need the support of all lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” Parkinson said. “In the end, it’ll help us have a stronger country because we will be working with people across the aisle rather than one party making all the decisions.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.