INDIANAPOLIS – Redistricting occurs every 10 years and comes with its own lingo.
As state lawmakers start the process Tuesday, get ready to hear words like “compactness,” “bleaching,” “communities of interest” and “proportional.”
“Redistricting is critically important because it determines who represents a particular community over the next decade,” said Elizabeth Bennion, political science professor at IU-South Bend. “The composition of a district can change, which means one group of people may receive better or worse representation depending on how the line is drawn.”
Generally, the population has shifted in Indiana away from rural areas and into more urban areas. And the new districts will have to reflect that change.
House Republicans are set to unveil proposed boundary lines Tuesday for Indiana's nine congressional districts and 100 state House of Representatives districts. Senate Republicans will add the 50 state Senate districts in a few weeks.
Republicans control the process because they have a supermajority in both chambers. This means they have enough members to operate without Democrats present.
Public hearings are set Wednesday and Thursday at the Statehouse. Here is a glossary of terms you need to know as the process unfolds:
The census – A complete count of the population required by the U.S. Constitution that happens every 10 years.
Redistricting – The redrawing or revision of boundaries for representational districts based on the new population, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Gerrymander – The practice of manipulating district lines to advantage one political party that often involves bizarre-shaped districts. It is named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, fifth vice president of the United States under President James Madison from March 1813 until his death in November 1814. He signed a bill benefiting the Democratic-Republican Party. One of the districts resembled a salamander.
Voting Rights Act of 1965 – Federal law that protects racial and language minorities from discrimination by a state, or other political subdivision, in voting practices, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.
Deviation – Districts are supposed to have similar population sizes but are allowed to deviate slightly. Indiana's congressional districts, for example, will have about 753,947 residents; House districts about 67,855 and Senate districts about 135,710. Julia Vaughn, director of Common Cause Indiana, said congressional maps can't deviate much at all – they have to be as equal as practicable. Mapmakers strive for less than 2% difference in ideal populations. But state legislative districts can have more deviation to keep communities together. Vaughn said about 5% would still be acceptable.
Communities of interest – Advocates often want to keep communities of interest together in a district. An obvious example is not splitting a county, city or township. But it is more than just political subdivision lines. The National Conference of State Legislatures says a community of interest is when residents have common demographic and/or political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision, such as a city or county. One example would be keeping a large Amish area in one district.
Cracking – A term to describe when the electoral strength of a particular group, such as a racial minority, is divided into multiple districts to dilute the power. Vaughn noted the city of Fort Wayne is split into five state House districts. Similarly, packing is when a group is placed into just a few districts to diminish its political power.
Bleaching – The result of packing, Bennion said, is sometimes to create more “bleached” or white outer districts. It is often done for partisan reasons – using race as a proxy for politics and making districts more Republican, she said.
Compactness – Having the minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency. A circle, square or a hexagon are examples of very compact districts, the National Conference of State Legislatures said. But Bennion notes “we don't actually live in little squares – we have rivers and highways and things don't line up easily.” She cautioned that a compact district doesn't necessarily mean it is fair.
Proportional representation – The idea that the division of seats should closely match statewide voting patterns. Indiana is undoubtedly Republican so a 50-50 House split would likely not be proportional. Vaughn said proportionality is hard to get without ignoring other important criteria – “it's a delicate balance.”