Putting a stop to gerrymandering
This past election cycle there has been much discussion about winning elections fair and square. There has been talk of rigged elections. Many citizens are now familiar, at least somewhat, with the role of the Electoral College.
Additionally, many citizens are recognizing the impact of what is referred to as gerrymandering — the manipulation of the geographic boundaries to favor one political party. Gerrymandering happens in our commonwealth every 10 years under the guise of redistricting and it is a practice that needs to stop.
What is redistricting? Our state constitution requires that district lines be redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. These lines must be drawn in a compact, contiguous manner taking care to only divide communities for good and sufficient reason.
In PA, we have a Redistricting Commission which is responsible for redrawing the state representative and state senatorial districts. The five-member Commission is comprised of the 4 caucus leaders (the majority and minority leaders of the PA House and Senate) and the fifth individual, ostensibly non-partisan, is chosen by those caucus leaders. If this individual cannot be agreed upon, then the PA Supreme Court appoints the chair. The legislature does not vote on the plans and the governor has no power to sign or veto them.
Needless to say, this results in elected officials deciding those boundaries and therefore ‘picking their constituents’ instead of creating districts where competitive races can be run. ‘Safe seats’ and districts packed with one or the other party is the result. This is gerrymandering.
I am in support of creating an Independent Commission to assist in the development of compact and contiguous districts.
Redistricting congressional districts goes through the legislative process. A bill defining the district boundaries is passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor. Although the process is potentially bipartisan, if one party controls both the Pennsylvania House and Senate and the governorship, that party has exclusive control over how the district boundaries are drawn thereby becoming highly manipulated.
In 2012 I was a “no” vote for the legislation put forth to redraw our 18 congressional districts and was appalled at the yes votes from both sides of the aisle. Rumor had it that members of the congressional delegation were asking for affirmative votes…and those votes were ultimately received. Again, gerrymandering.
The topic of gerrymandering is so important to good government and transparency and the development of policy that meets the needs of the greater good of our citizens that I have covered it in all 59 of my Town Hall meetings. A few of those meetings have been focused almost exclusively on this topic.
If the size of the legislature were to be reduced without gerrymandering being outlawed, our governance process will be even more prone to serving special interests and not our citizens.
As a member of the Government Reform caucus, I will continue to work tirelessly on this, IMHO, ‘root of all evils.’
FairDistrictsPA is a coalition led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause PA to change our state constitution to create a redistricting commission composed of citizens selected by lottery to redraw the boundaries. We need this amendment to our state constitution to pass before the next U.S. census in 2020.
Help Us Fight for Fair Elections
If you want to get involved in this effort and do not have access to a computer, please call my office at 215-482-8726 and we will put you in touch with the Philadelphia coordinator of this effort.