New district maps likely to fortify Indiana’s GOP supermajority | New
INDIANAPOLIS — Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor who lives in southern Indianapolis, is familiar with Democrat Andre Carson representing her district in Congress.
But when Wilson votes in November, Carson’s name will not be on his ballot.
That’s because the GOP-controlled state legislature approved new district maps last year that moved her and tens of thousands of other Hoosiers from Congressional District 7 to District 6.
Now those residents will choose between incumbent Republican Greg Pence and Democrat Cynthia Wirth.
Pence, the brother of former Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is heavily favored to win. The same goes for Carson, who has represented the Indianapolis District since 2008.
For voters in Wilson’s neighborhood, the change means going from a very solidly Democratic district to one that has been held by a Republican since 1983.
“Having these lines redrawn really changes a voter’s voice in Congress,” Wilson said. “…I can’t think of two more disparate voices in Congress, quite frankly, in terms of the issues they advocate, the policies they support, the bills they propose, and the laws they vote.”
It’s the same story in the state as the Hoosiers vote early or prepare to go to the polls on Nov. 8. The state’s new district maps, which were redrawn by a GOP supermajority after the 2020 census, have been heavily criticized as favoring Republican candidates.
Policy pundits say redesigned districts for state races all but guarantee the GOP will maintain the supermajority it has held for a decade in both chambers of the statehouse.
That means Republicans hold more than two-thirds of the Senate and House seats and can pass laws, including new district maps, without any votes from Democrats.
Rima Shahid, CEO of nonpartisan advocacy group Women4Change Indiana, said she’s concerned this year’s cards could have a chilling effect on some Hoosiers, who view their vote as meaningless when Republicans are so widely outvoted. favored to win in most races.
That’s one of the reasons, she argued, that the state has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country. In 2020, Indiana saw 69.3% of voters vote, placing it in the bottom third.
“I think you could argue that maybe why Indiana continues to rank low in civic health…it’s because we rank high in gerrymandered partisan states,” Shahid said. “People may not believe your vote actually matters when the cards are drawn in a way that favors one party over the other.”
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl agrees that the new maps put his party at a disadvantage in many districts. This is what happened in 2011 during the last cutting, he explained, and what happened again last year.
“We are a party that truly believes that voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,” Schmuhl said. “…I think the majority of Hoosiers are against it.”
State Republicans said the maps were fair and transparent and prioritized keeping communities of interest together.
“I believe these cards reflect public feedback and will serve the Hoosiers well over the next decade,” Senate Speaker Pro Tem Rodric Bray said after the cards were approved in October 2021.
The cards’ partisanship could be diluted, Schmuhl argued, by outcry over the state’s near-total abortion ban, which went into effect in September before a judge issued an injunction to following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The United States Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade led more women to register to vote and will play an important role in how they vote in November, Schmuhl noted.
“It’s a priority for people across the state,” he said. “…So that shows me that the wind is kind of in our sails. I think that’s going to be a big factor in this election.
Wilson, who teaches political science at the University of Indianapolis, noted that just as district maps change, so do demographics and populations.
As minority populations continue to grow throughout Indiana, demographic shifts could quickly move a district into new political territory long before the maps are redrawn again, she explained.
“The current appearance of voters in this district can and will change in the future,” Wilson said. “…It’s entirely possible that the population has shifted, increased, or shifted in some way that you didn’t necessarily anticipate.”
The ultimate political fallout from the new maps won’t be known until after the election, she said, but one thing is certain: who wins this year will certainly impact which party redraws the maps again in 2031.
After the last district maps went into effect in 2011, the following year Republican state representatives won a supermajority of 69 seats in the House, and they have maintained that advantage ever since.
“People like to say elections have consequences,” Wilson said. “The elections are the consequence. If you win an election, you have power and you can make decisions with that power.