Redistricting and the future of our democracy

By Phil Goodchild

Special to

The 2020 census data are in. Like the reflection in a long-misplaced mirror, the results show us what we look like today. Notably, the number of white people fell for the first time since 1790, and we’re more urban and more diverse than ever. The question for our legislators over the next 30 days as they meet to fashion new legislative districts is whether the maps they draw will look like us? Or more like the maps they conjured in 2011? In a representative democracy, our elected representatives are supposed to represent all of us, not just the voters they choose. But our current legislative maps don’t mirror the electorate in Indiana, and not everyone feels represented. And that’s a problem for democracy in our state


Now, redistricting gives the members of the overwhelmingly white, male, Republican supermajority in the Indiana General Assembly a once-in-a-decade opportunity to redeem themselves and produce maps that are more representative of our diverse communities and our varied interests. Maps, in a word, that are fair.  Fair maps would accentuate competitiveness, keep communities of interest intact, and divide cities and counties into as few districts as possible. Of course, balancing these sometimes competing notions is not an easy job. But we pay our legislators to do it as thoughtfully and impartially as their instinct to protect their incumbency will allow, and they should not rush the job or shortchange citizens’ involvement. 

How can we help our legislators? Let them know we are tuned in to redistricting in 2021 by contacting them, meeting with them, and testifying at election committee hearings to insist on a transparent process.  Also, by submitting maps of our own for their serious consideration. All IN for Democracy, a non-partisan coalition of over 20 civic, social, and religious groups working for redistricting reform in Indiana, is promoting a free public web tool called Districtr ( to enable public participation in the redistricting process. The coalition has planned a competition for district maps drawn by the public, and will award cash prizes for the best congressional, state house, and state senate maps.  The coalition will submit the winning maps to the election committees for adoption, and use them to evaluate new maps proposed by the election committees. 

But will they pay any attention?

Oh, our legislators noisily proclaim their intention to comply with all statutory and constitutional requirements, and to adhere to regular legislative process as they barrel ahead.  But redistricting is not routine legislation. And, sadly enough for all of us who must live for the next ten years with the new maps they unveil, there are few legal requirements in Indiana beyond ensuring districts are contiguous, maintaining roughly equal population among districts, and respecting the federal Voting Rights Act.  Democracy, however, requires something more. Fairness. If legislators fail to apply fundamental fairness in how they conduct redistricting this September, ignore public input, and enact maps that serve only their own political interests, they will have failed us and undermined democracy. The results will be uncompetitive districts and elections. Poisoned (or complete absence of) debate. Impoverished policy options. Reduced accountability to voters. Legislation that skews ever more to the extremes. And voters who check out.   

Look, we all know that Hoosiers don’t all share the same opinions. They shouldn’t. But that must not make us enemies to each other. We all know that Hoosiers love a good competition, but real competition depends on fairness. And Hoosiers are fundamentally fair people. They favor a fair competition of ideas, in which all opinions receive a hearing.  In election campaigns and at the Statehouse, they want an active commerce in ideas about where our state should be headed and how to get there. The key should be the power of ideas, not the power to impose ideas on others. 

If political leaders are truly confident in the power of their ideas and trust the people–all the people, not just those who look and think and vote like them–they will resist the temptation in 2021 to fix electoral outcomes by gerrymandering, draw maps that look like us, and accept the results on election day. If they do not, then Indiana will have one-party rule, and representative democracy in name only. And when Hoosiers hold up a mirror to their legislature following elections in 2022, they’ll see not themselves, but unrecognizable images found only in the funhouse mirrors at the state fair and the Indiana General Assembly.

Phil Goodchild is a retired attorney and a volunteer with the Indiana Friends Committee on Legislation, a member of the All IN for Democracy coalition.  He lives in Zionsville.