Nick Roberts, politically active IUPUI student, charts the way to fairer districts

Nick Roberts, an economics student at IUPUI, has always had a passion for maps. Growing up, Roberts and his identical twin would spend hours studying maps with his great grandfather, which naturally lent itself to the study of political maps. Today, Roberts uses his passion for maps to address gerrymandering in Indiana.

On Sept. 27, Roberts gave testimony at the Senate Elections Committee shared by Sen. Jon Ford about the current state of Indiana’s districts. In the testimony, Roberts said that Fort Wayne’s minority population of Burmese and blacks do not have proper representation because the city has been “so egregiously split.”

“The idea that a Fort Wayne resident has more in common with a rural voter an hour away than with their neighbor is unreasonable,” Roberts said.

According to Roberts, many voters view gerrymandering as a “non-issue” or they simply don’t know what gerrymandering is or why it’s a problem. Furthermore, they may see the issue and care about it but don’t know what can be done about it.

“When it comes to potholes on the road, when it comes to crime, when it comes to education, people see it,” Roberts said, “But when it comes to gerrymandering, it’s such an abstract thing to basically everybody that it’s challenging to make people care about it.”

Roberts said another obstacle to the issue is apathy in addition to ignorance. According to Roberts, using terms such as ignorance can be condescending. He said that politics isn’t “friendly” to people outside of it, and voters tend to be “plugged out of” politics as a result. Additionally, Roberts said politics doesn’t favor new faces that could disrupt the status quo. 

Roberts’ political career started in 2017 when he worked an internship with the Marion County Democratic Party. From there, he worked his way up and was a full-time campaign manager for three local campaigns. Roberts is currently the College Democrats of Indiana vice president.

“I know it sounds cliché, but there is no career path that will have more obstacles than politics,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that his career in politics was a long time coming. His family always had an interest in politics, but no one had ever gotten involved. At age 14 and 15, Roberts spent his free time delving into world topics, and by the time of the 2016 election he began to attend rallies and supported Bernie Sanders. Following the election with the victory of Donald Trump, Roberts said he felt the need to finally do something. 

“I saw what was going on, and thought why not get involved?” Roberts said.

According to Roberts, independent commissioning is the solution to gerrymandering. Independent commissioning is present in France, Canada, and the U.K. In the U.S., Iowa has an independent commission, and zero counties are split in the entire state. The commission is appointed by the state, made up of geographers and other community members with no political ties, and its goal is to keep cities and communities together.

Roberts said that more grassroots work needs to be done, and that people devoted to changing the current system are needed. Roberts knows people dedicating 80 hours per week, but he said even five hours would be more than enough.

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