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Saturday, April 10, 2021

The next fight should be redistricting

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So, now that we got through Election Day, the next fight should be redistricting. 

Following what is called a decennial census year (every 10 years), Indiana legislative bodies are responsible for drawing new district maps.

The Indiana General Assembly will develop state and congressional legislative districts, and the city-county council will prepare council district maps. 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Indiana law is wanting in several respects. 

There isn’t a compactness requirement, which means districts can sprawl. 

There isn’t a requirement to create competitive districts. This means that in too many instances around the state, elected officials are essentially elected in their primary.

There isn’t a policy on encouraging partisan balance. 

The center notes there are not requirements for preservation of political boundaries, communities of interest of nesting. 

They note that in drawing the maps they are not prohibited from protecting incumbents. 

The drawing of maps is a little tricky for the Black community. 

Around 48% of the Black community lives in a predominantly Black community. 

To draw maps that enhance our collective political influence in more districts you run a strong possibility of losing Black representation in legislative bodies. It doesn’t have to be the case, but it is a consideration. 

In a political environment where too many politicians think Black political concerns are a negotiation, not having actual representation could stymie progress. 

Nevertheless, the status quo certainly has its flaws. 

Right now elected officials may not be aware of, or sensitive to, Black concerns because there simply aren’t enough of us in their districts to compel a focus on our issues.

I contend that they could be educated to care and arguments can be developed to show mutual interest among a variety of constituencies, but if we aren’t a significant constituency in their elections the politics of that position aren’t as strong.   

Civic organizations like Women4Change, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and others have been engaged on this issue. 

What has been proposed is a nonpartisan redistricting committee. 

The idea that politicians have so much influence on the process of identifying their constituencies, including hiring consultants to essentially create their competitive advantage for decades, is clearly problematic. 

The general response from the Indiana General Assembly has been that the Indiana Constitution says that the Indiana General Assembly is responsible for preparing the maps. 

The reality is they haven’t done a good job at a number of the more basics protections other states use to avoid the most objectionable aspects of gerrymandering. 

To be fair, there have been games played at the local level with the maps including the removal of four countywide city-county councilors.

The Black community lost a Black city-county councilor in the last election cycle, but in recent years the president of the city-county council has been Black. (I think demographics accelerated a change but the new councilor is sensitive to Black issues.) 

We need better processes to support the interest of people of color including Black and Latinx voters. Adding common sense provisions to how we develop the district maps for all legislative bodies is critical for our democracy. 

What I’m hearing …

To prognosticate on this election seems to be ill-advised mostly because at the time of writing this it isn’t over. 

But one observation that I think will be a topic of conversation is the division within the electorate. 

We are deeply divided as a country — which is another way of saying we are a diverse country with a broad range of rationales for political behavior. 

We will need to avoid a Manichean (good vs. evil) dismissal of others as evil for actions we do not understand if we actually are interested in achieving the kind of progress for people of color in Indianapolis, the state and the country. 

There is also the issue of whether we all think progress looks the same. 

We should be humble in our lack of understanding.

There is a good chance that the exit poll demographic data will look unusual or counterintuitive depending on your source of news. 

There is racism, misogyny and a host of other “isms” in the world but arriving at an explanation based on your understanding about why people voted the way that they did, without a conversation seeking to understand a person who is the momentary target of your disapproval, is not only counterproductive, it is harmful to you.  

Part of inclusion is understanding diversity. 

Seeking understanding of people who think differently from you is both the best way to pursue change as well as to experience growth. 

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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