by Sue Wasserkrug, for the Shuttle
There was good news and bad news in the fight against gerrymandering in Pennsylvania over the past year and a half. It’s good news that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled this year that the map of our U.S. Congressional districts was unconstitutional because the districts were drawn to give an advantage to the Republican Party. The court ordered a new map drawn to eliminate this partisan gerrymander, and that map will be in effect for next month’s elections as well as in 2020. That’s something to celebrate!
But it’s not such good news that the new map only addresses the gerrymandering of Congressional districts. The maps for state districts (the state House of Representatives and state Senate in Harrisburg) remain unchanged. A new map will not be drawn until 2021, after the 2020 Census, and, unfortunately, the court did not order any change in the process of drawing that map. So it’s entirely possible that future districts will be just as gerrymandered all over again.
Bottom line: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court only fixed part of the problem, and the fix is short-term at best.
Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan organization committed to redistricting reform, advocates for the creation of an independent citizens’ commission to redraw the districts, instead of leaving the process in the hands of elected officials — who invariably want to be re-elected and therefore draw district lines to accomplish that, instead of drawing them to reflect communities of interest. That’s why so many districts look so peculiar; for example, the old 7th Congressional District in Pennsylvania was described as looking like Goofy kicking Donald Duck!
In Pennsylvania, a state constitutional amendment would be necessary to create an independent commission tasked with drawing district lines. Politics being the complicated endeavor that it is, the first step toward a constitutional amendment is the passage of a law in both the state House and the state Senate.
Hundreds of FDPA members spent thousands of hours trying to get the Pa. General Assembly to enact such a bill. We visited our legislators, we called them, we sent them letters and emails, we rallied in Harrisburg, we tabled at community events to educate voters, we wrote op-eds to highlight the issue. In fact, at hearings earlier this year, several legislators noted that redistricting reform was the No. 1 issue that they were hearing about from their constituents. But those hearings turned out to be disastrous: Amendments to the proposals basically reversed the effect that they would have in terms of getting the politics out of drawing district lines.
Now for the bad news. Despite a lot of effort on the part of a lot of folks across the state, no redistricting bill was passed. And because of other wonky requirements, this means that there is no way that comprehensive, enduring redistricting reform will be accomplished before the 2020 election.
FDPA is not packing it in, though. We’re still very much committed to educating the public about the problem of gerrymandering. The bottom line is, when districts are gerrymandered, not all votes count. So before you go to the polls Nov. 6, find out which candidates support redistricting reform. Check out the “Know Before You Vote” resource on the FDPA website, www.fairdistrictspa.com. Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors.
FDPA is also encouraging voters to get involved and spread the word. Everything you need to know is on the website.