Fairvote.org is currently undergoing an upgrade, and some features may not be working as usual. We apologize for any inconvenience, and expect to be back at full capacity soon.

Indiana: A Better Redistricting Plan with Super Districts

by Dean Searcy // Published May 5, 2011
INplan2

After much debate, a GOP Congressional redistricting plan was approved this past week by both the Indiana House and Senate. Despite the Republican Party's efforts to quell allegations of partisan gerrymandering, it is quite clear that partisanship has been a factor.

Republicans drew the new district lines after taking control of the Indiana General Assembly following the 2010 election. As a result, Republican congressional incumbents are given a greater chance at reelection than Democratic incumbents who are either pushed into competition with fellow Democratic incumbents, placed into Republican-leaning districts (as in the case of Representative Donnelly), or placed into hyper-concentrated Democratic majority districts that "waste" Democratic votes (as is the case with the district containing Indianapolis).

Republicans look poised to come out ahead in a process that shouldn't be partisan. With the power to drawn district lines every 10 years in the hands of partisan figures, it's impossible to guarantee accurate representation and voter equality in a winner-take-all system such as the one used  in Indiana and most other elections in the United States. As a result, voter turnout drops because discouraged voters feel their vote wouldn't matter, leaving our democracy suffering a representation deficit.

Can this be solved? Yes, by dividing the state of Indiana into three super-districts which each elect three representatives (for a total of nine). With the use of a proportional voting system, the harmful effects of partisan and racial gerrymandering can be effectively hindered.

Let's take for example the following redistricting map drawn by a student at the Columbia Law School as part of an excellent project organized by Columbia law professor Nathaniel Persily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This plan, seeking to preserve communities of interest and county lines, still relies on single-member districts to produce election winners. Therefore, it still suffers from the inevitable representation flaws of such a system. Alternatively, if the state of Indiana was turnout into a three super-district system with a proportional voting like choice voting or cumulative voting, it could look like the following map.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By combining districts 1-2-3, 4-5-6, and 7-8-9 into three districts, we produce a system in which the threshold of representation is no longer 50%+1 as it is in a single-member district system, but is now lowered to 25% + 1 with proportional voting (with 50% +1 electing two of three representatives). This means that any like-minded racial or political group of voters of significant size would have the ability to either directly elect a like-minded representation or be more likely to sway the outcome.

Our plan helps ensure that every voter will have real electoral choices because each vote cast goes directly towards electing their ideal candidate. Also, lowering the threshold of exclusion will allow political outcomes to more accurately represent real political opinions within the state. Rather than relying on a first-past-the-post system in which all votes that didn't go towards the winner were cast in vain, proportional voting would make every vote significant.

The current partisan breakdown of Indiana's congressional delegation is six Republicans and three Democrats after the Republicans picked up two seats in 2010. Without partisan data for these specific congressional districts, we can't predict with certainty how the impact of the plan passed by the Indiana state legislature. Pundits analyzing the plan suggest it strengthens the position of most Republican incumbents by securing the six seats they currently hold and weakens Democratic incumbent Congressman Donnelly by shifting Republican-leaning areas into his district, making it quite possible that Republicans would win seven seats in 2012 in a race that was dead-even in the 2008 presidential race.

Turning to analysis of our proportional voting plan, the current districts range from a Democratic high of D+14 (meaning an open seat in nationally close year would like be won by the Democratic 64% to 36%) to a Democratic low of R+17 (meaning a Republican would likely win an open seat in that year by about 67% to 33%). That suggests that any three districts put together would easily put both parties above the threshold of exclusion of 25% plus one, thereby guaranteeing at least one seat for each major party. With the state having an overall partisan lean toward Republicans of about 55% to 45%, the odds are that each of the three super districts would be more or less competitive for the third seat, with Republicans having a likely edge in at least two of the districts. All in all, proportional voting would guarantee that state opinions translated into fair representation across the state.

When considering voting age population and racial demographics of the new super-districts (below) from Columbia's Indiana map project, we can see that consolidating three single-member districts into a single three-seat district would also increase the voting power of racial minority groups in more parts of the state. They would not have the power to elect candidates of choice without support from white voters, but would be an influential group making up a significant share of the 25% necessary to win a seat. Given that African Americans have a history of success in white-majority congressional districts in Indiana, an African American candidate would have a real chance to win a seat as well.

Dist Total

Total Pop

Total VAP

White VAP

%WVAP

Black VAP

%BVAP

Hispanic VAP

%HVAP

1

720,422

540,376

366,419

67.81%

99,532

18.42%

63,014

11.66%

2

720,422

530,601

453,471

85.46%

32,047

6.04%

33,826

6.38%

3

720,422

530,825

462,673

87.16%

30,354

5.72%

24,514

4.62%

4

720,423

548,430

493,401

89.97%

17,019

3.10%

20,161

3.68%

5

720,423

537,669

366,363

68.14%

116,048

21.58%

38,097

7.09%

6

720,422

534,309

413,593

77.41%

75,389

14.11%

24,281

4.54%

7

720,423

545,874

515,220

94.38%

11,421

2.09%

10,489

1.92%

8

720,423

559,194

520,122

93.01%

13,693

2.45%

9,956

1.78%

9

720,422

548,226

506,070

92.31%

22,493

4.10%

11,031

2.01%

Super District

Total Pop

Total VAP

White VAP

%WVAP

Black VAP

%BVAP

Hispanic VAP

%HVAP

1 (1,2,3)

2,161,266

1,601,802

1,282,563

80.07%

161,933

10.11%

121,354

7.58%

2 (4,5,6)

2,161,268

1,620,408

1,273,357

78.58%

208,456

12.86%

82,539

5.09%

3 (7,8,9)

2,161,268

1,653,294

1,541,412

93.23%

47,607

2.88%

31,476

1.90%

 

Overall, a winner-take-all system subjects the state of Indiana to a representation deficit because it only rewards a single candidate that wins while pushing aside the influence of minority groups. Even worse, it leaves most voters in noncompetitive races, discouraging turnout. In this way, our suggested method would help ensure that election outcomes accurately reflect grassroots opinions and generate opportunities in which voters have meaningful choices in each and every election.