Why local governments fail to redistrict

We have spent the past two years talking to county clerks, commissioners, council members and relevant school officials about whether they were planning to redistrict and, if not, why not.  For the first few months, most officials seemed genuinely surprised to find out that they were required to redistrict.  That is not surprising since many of their counties and school boards hadn’t redistricted in decades and all institutional memory of redistricting had long since been lost.

Once informed, many of them did redistrict, but many of them did not.  Redistricting is a painful process for elected officials.  It requires them to reallocate constituents and, in worst-case scenarios, to pit two or more elected officials against one another.  Thus, the most common reasons cited for not redistricting were that officials didn’t want to do it and no one was forcing them to do so. 

Other less edifying reasons exist as well—including deliberate efforts to make sure that underrepresented groups remain that way.  For example, one reason that members of the North Putnam School Board resisted redistricting despite having one district, Floyd, with five times the population of another district is that the rapidly growing population of Floyd consists mostly of people new to North Putnam, attracted to Floyd Township by its attractive human-made Heritage Lake.  Fear that these newcomers will overwhelm the elections and permanently alter the longstanding character of school and community kept the board from either redrawing district lines or switching to residential districts until after they were sued by a resident of Floyd Township in October 2012. It is perhaps worth noting that no one objected to outsiders in the school corporation when a succession of student-athletes from Floyd Township led the North Putnam High School football team to two state championship finals.