Politicians in states across the country are actively working to make it more difficult to vote, from preventing absentee ballot requests from being mailed to voters, to blocking governors’ requests for additional resources to help safely conduct elections. The U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and in the years to follow, conservative majorities in states across the country took advantage of weakened voting rights. This year, Congress failed to pass the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act after every single Senate Republican voted against even debating about protecting the right to vote.
The goal: disenfranchise Black voters across the country. It is happening right here in Indiana already.
In September, the 2020 U.S. Census data will be released, and the Indiana General Assembly will go into special session to start redrawing maps for the state’s Congressional and legislative districts. Why? Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution mandates a census of the population. The goal is to count every person because it’s from these numbers we allocate seats for each state to hold in the U.S. House of Representatives. Once the numbers are public, each state begins the redistricting process with the purpose to equalize the population of each state’s districts.
Based on early reports, the redistricting reality for Indiana is deeply worrying. “Indiana’s current state and congressional district maps substantially favor Republicans,” as reported by the Indianapolis Star. A new study commissioned by Women4Change shows that Indiana’s current state and congressional district maps substantially favor Republicans — supporting a 2014 study by the University of Chicago which found that Indiana’s House districts are among the most gerrymandered or partisan in the country.
According to All In For Democracy, “when districts are lopsided from a partisan perspective, it creates polarization, with candidates appealing to the fringes instead of the middle. Compromise becomes a dirty word; there is no reward for consensus building.”
The 2021 Indiana General Assembly is a perfect representation of our gerrymandered state. In 2012, Democratic candidates received a total of 999,219 votes (42.7%), Republicans received 1,342,237 votes (53.7%). But Republicans held a 69% majority, which has climbed to 70 percent. In 2021, the majority party is still overrepresented resulting in supermajorities in both chambers of the IGA.
Beyond the obvious lack of representation in state government the message received by the general public over and over is that your voice doesn’t matter. When people live in gerrymandered districts, voter participation lowers and the partisan divide increases.
A fair process for drawing districts is fundamental to democracy and impacts how voter voices are heard on issues like access to health care, funding for schools, public health and infracture projects. A 2019 report says that over the last decade, public health has been increasingly tied to the health of our democracy — states where the effort required to vote is highest, life expectancy is the lowest, and a similar relationship exists between lower life expectancy and higher partisan bias in legislative districts.
In short, when people are excluded from the political process, they can’t advocate for their own interests and private interests take control of the policymaking process.
Voting rights are reproductive rights. As long as people are denied access to the ballot, democracy, justice, nor reproductive freedom can be achieved for people of color for whom access to sexual and reproductive health care has always been out of reach. People of color, particularly Black people, are overwhelmingly the targets of voter suppression tactics from politicians. The policing of Black bodies extends far beyond the actions of individual police officers. It is in our workplaces, our schools, our public institutions. It is in our health care system. And it is in our elections.
We must make our voices heard now before the IGA starts the redistricting process in September. Get involved with local organizations like Common Cause and All In For Democracy to see how you can make a difference.
We know the fight for autonomy, reproductive freedom, racial equity, an inclusive economy, and more will only be won with the complete participation of everyone, especially historically disenfranchised communities. Together, we must take action to enact voter reform protections and fight back against attempts to silence our voices. Are you with me?
LaKimba DeSadier is Indiana state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.