Compactness and the 1980s Districts in the Indiana State House: Evidence of Political Gerrymandering?
Richard G. Niemi and John Wilkerson
Ever since the salamander-shaped "Gerry"--mander ( 1812), bizarre or otherwise noteworthy shapes have been synonymous with partisan gerrymandering. Perhaps as a result, compactness has found its way into the constitution or statutes of fully half of the states ( Grofman, 1985a, 177-183). Yet in spite of ancestry and ubiquity that have made it part of the common parlance of legislative districting, compactness has played only a marginal role in judicial decision making. In part this is because until recently partisan gerrymandering was nonjusticiable. But it is also because of an abundance of unrelated definitions of compactness combined with a severe shortage of theoretical and comparative analyses and an almost complete absence of real-world calculations.
In this paper, we analyze the 1980s House districting plan in Indiana using multiple quantitative measures. We find that the 1980s plan is less compact than the plan it replaced; multimember districts are generally less compact than single-member districts; and the "worst- case" districts noted by the Indiana District Court are especially ill- compact. In addition, as shown in Niemi and Wright (chapter 13), the least compact districts contributed heavily to Republican victories. Thus, insofar as compactness is relevant, the findings strengthen the argument that the 1980s plan was a political gerrymander.