East Falls Now Article: Redistricting is Here

Challenges seem to be everywhere at the local, state and federal levels of government, so you would be forgiven if the issue of redistricting and gerrymandering was far down on your list of priorities.  But it should not be.  In fact, it plays a significant role in how your state legislature and U.S. Representatives handle governing. 

For example, on too many session days, and in too many committee meetings, it is about winning. Too many times, I have seen a bill bottled up, not because there are insufficient votes to pass the bill out of committee, but because the majority of votes needed to pass the bill must come from the majority party. Whipped votes (a pre-count of how members will vote) do not include minority party members. What is the cause of this dysfunction? What is the remedy? Gerrymandering (the manipulation of a district boundary to benefit a political party, not citizens) has greatly contributed to this polarization, gridlock and the skewed outcomes of the legislative process. Yes, gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s. Yes, no system of redrawing lines to determine the district boundaries for state senate, state representative and congress is fool proof. However, there are better processes that are used successfully by other states and I have been a staunch member of the effort to bring such reform to Pennsylvania.

Congressional, state representative, and state senate redistricting also known as reapportionment occurs every 10 years – in tandem with the decennial census.

2021 is a redistricting year and this important and impactful event is underway in PA.

After the census data is released, the district lines need to be redrawn so that each district has roughly the same number of people living in it.

Furthermore, districts, per our State Constitution, are to be compact, contiguous and keep communities whole.

Current PA law puts state legislators in charge of redistricting; think fox guarding the henhouse.

To say the least, allowing legislators to draw their own districts is a conflict of interest. 

Legislators work behind the scenes with no oversight or standards for fairness.

They use mapping technology and big data to profile voters and use that information to pick exactly who they want in or out of a voting district; and they can and have drawn boundaries that can maximize their influence, minimize their accountability, and keep their seats in office safe.

The establishment of an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw these boundaries would take this critical task out of the hands of the elected officials who are directly impacted by this redraw of the district lines.

My first year in this role as your State Representative, 2011, was a redistricting year and I was horrified at the process. It was opaque, and I witnessed my colleagues arguing over which voting divisions and neighborhoods they wanted in their districts. Citizens need only look at how gerrymandered districts are throughout the state and in Philadelphia too. I have an album of such gerrymandered districts on my Facebook page. The current exception is the congressional districts because the League of Women Voters sued the Commonwealth in 2017 over the egregious gerrymander of the congressional districts and won. However, those fairer drawn districts will go away in 2021 because an Independent Redistricting Commission was never established. 

Efforts have been made for decades to place the boundary line drawing process in the hands of an Independent Redistricting Commission. Those efforts have never succeeded. If you wonder why and cannot guess, meet me for your favorite beverage and I will do my best to explain!

The result of the process we have now is gerrymandering. Impacts of gerrymandering include:  races that are less competitive; leading to elected officials who can be less accountable and the election of those candidates who tend to be ideologically extreme.

This is not a recipe for good governing.

Since efforts to establish an Independent Redistricting Commission have failed, despite concerted efforts, count me among those who have tried, we need citizens to be vigilant and watchful as the redistricting process unfolds. It would also be most helpful if HB22 of the 2021-2022 legislative session known as the LACRA bill were to be voted on.

This bill has 76 co-sponsors and counting and I am truly privileged to be listed in the 2nd position behind the prime sponsor.

Among other things the bill requires transparency in the process and mandates public hearings.

What can you do? You can contact the majority chair of the House State Government Committee to ask that this bill be brought forward for a committee vote. Rep. Seth Grove can be reached through his website at RepGrove.com. Future updates will be included in my bi-weekly e-newsletter. Sign up at RepDeLissio.com. Thank you for keeping informed on this critical, impactful matter.