Indiana students take action to improve local redistricting

Students in a Honor Scholar seminar at DePauw University are repairing local democracy, and getting academic credit for it to boot.

by Leah Sakala, September 21, 2011

A recent article in The DePauw reports that students in a Honor Scholar seminar at DePauw University are repairing local democracy, and getting credit for it to boot:

Following a class discussion on how prison populations cause an imbalance in community population counts, students investigated whether this was an issue that actually affected nearby communities. […]

As students called counties to gather general county opinions about prisoners affecting population counts, they discovered that many of the counties did not know they needed to redistrict. […]

“We called the state, and they said we didn’t need to,” [Putnam County Commissioner Nancy] Fogle said. “They told us that all that needed to be done was to re-certify since the population had not changed much.”

Census data showed that the populations had actually fluctuated greatly in Putnam County and the lack of redistricting caused citizens to lose their equal vote.

Kauffman’s students presented their findings to the Indiana State Redistricting Commission. The Putnam County Commissioners agreed on the importance of the issue and is currently in the process of re-drawing district lines.

“I am glad to get this done and behind us,” Fogle said. “Even though lines may not change much, it still is the law.”

Fogle said the county is happy the issue was finally brought to their attention. Shapiro and junior classmate Shelby Bremer expressed excitement at the opportunity they had to extend their class experience to a community issue.

“To be able to get involved in a legislative process, in something so much greater than the classroom, was such a great experience,” Bremer said. “Kelsey is so knowledgeable and passionate, and I was so glad I had the opportunity to get involved.” […]

Kauffman’s Honor Scholar students discovered an additional problem with South Putnam’s school board.

They found that 75 percent of the residents in one of the districts are prisoners who are not from South Putnam and do not have the right to vote. This means that only 25 percent of the residents in this particular district are free and therefore are the only ones who are able to vote for members of the school board.

Redistricting these areas would help assure that each person’s vote counts as much as every other voter’s.

You can also check out the great video the students made about prison-based gerrymandering, which includes footage from their interviews with local officials:

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