The battle for redistricting reform and an end to gerrymandering in Pennsylvania had been going on for decades without success when in 2016 good-government reform groups decided to coordinate their efforts. They formed a new body of citizen volunteers called Fair Districts PA (www.fairdistrictspa.com)
Today, as we prepare to redraw our congressional and legislative district maps in response to the latest census-documented changes in population, Pennsylvanians are much more aware of the long redistricting reform struggle and they clearly want change. Since 2016, Fair Districts and its allies have advocated for an independent commission to handle redistricting and take it out of the hands of the powerful leaders of our legislature – leaders more interested in drawing maps to favor their own interests than in creating a system that is fair and transparent, adheres to guidelines and rules, and encourages public participation.
Fair Districts has collected over 100,000 petition signatures and convinced 389 municipal and county government bodies, across the political spectrum, to pass resolutions calling for reform. Over 100 media outlets statewide have published over 725 articles about fair redistricting, 445 letters to the editor and 400+ editorials and op-ed pieces in support of an end to gerrymandering. We’ve made over 1,100 presentations, in person and online, to over 43,000 Pennsylvanians. Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum in two independent polls say they want redistricting reform.
Achieving the reforms Pennsylvanians want is especially difficult because it requires amending our Pennsylvania Constitution. A reform bill must pass both the House and Senate in two successive two-year sessions. If that happens, it goes to a statewide voter referendum and if approved, becomes law. But the same powerful legislative leaders who benefit from our current gerrymandered system, control which bills filed in the House and Senate get a committee hearing, a committee vote, or a floor vote.
In the last two sessions the House bill for an independent commission had more co-sponsors than any other filed – 110 in 2017-2018. That’s a majority of the 203-member House. Instead, leadership sent reform bills to committees whose chairs hold their positions at the pleasure of the leaders. There were no hearings, no public input, no votes.
Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania has no petition and referendum process. States like Michigan, Missouri and Utah won redistricting reform because their citizens could and did gather enough signatures to force the issue onto the ballot. In each of those cases it passed, as it would clearly do here in Pennsylvania.
It is easy to see why our legislative leaders, safely situated in gerrymandered districts that preserve their power, have zero interest in reform, even when the public demand for change is massive and bipartisan. By blocking all reform efforts for the past five years, leadership ensured that the time to create such a commission before our upcoming redistricting ran out.
That leaves our existing and deeply flawed system in place as we head into our next redistricting. But Fair Districts and allies like the League of Women Voters, Draw the Lines and Committee of Seventy, are even more determined to make sure that Pennsylvania’s redistricting is done in a fair and transparent manner, no matter who does it.
We are now trying to meet, virtually, with every member of the Legislature and ask them to support the Legislative and Congressional Reform Act (LACRA)- HB22 and SB222. Our position: “If you refuse to give up redistricting power, pass LACRA before you start this fall to assure a process that is transparent, fair, participatory and meets clear mapping guidelines.” To date, we have met, or scheduled sessions with nearly 200 of the 253 members of the Legislature. We have 72 cosponsors in the 203-member House (50 D/22 R) and 21 in the 50-member Senate (15 D/5R/1I).
Sadly, area legislators have not been supportive:
Senator Doug Mastriano (S 33), a member of the State Government Committee, which must first act on the bill in the Senate, voted against LACRA in the last session. A staff member did meet with us recently, but had little knowledge about LACRA or the status of the legislation.
Rep. Dan Moul (R 31) said he would vote to support LACRA “…if it reaches the floor as written.” Since no reform bills have passed the State Government Committee in the last five years, Rep. Moul’s support is not likely to be tested.
Rep. Torren Ecker (R 193) said he will not co-sponsor the bill but will do additional research on any bill reported out of committee before deciding how to vote. It is our hope that he will support the provisions for fairness and transparency in our bill.
Sophisticated mapping software and data analysis have made it ever easier to draw districts so heavily tilted to one party that, in roughly a third of Pennsylvania’s legislative races, incumbents have no opponents. The result is increasing partisanship and gridlock on major issues critical to Pennsylvania – lead exposure in homes and schools, unequal school funding, crumbling infrastructure, property tax reform, and lack of rural broadband.
Therefore, we are asking every Pennsylvanian who agrees with us to act now:
Contact your PA Senator and Representative. Ask them to co-sponsor and vote for HB22/SB222. If they already do, thank them. If not. ask them why they oppose a fair, transparent redistricting process with clear mapping guidelines and public input and oversight. Our website can help you identify them and where they stand on LACRA. If they haven’t yet met with us and you would like to join as a constituent, let us know.
At our website (www.fairdistrictspa.com) you can sign our petition, schedule a speaker for a virtual talk to learn more about the issues, attend one of the many talks listed in our online events calendar, and volunteer to work with your friends and neighbors as we educate and motivate our legislators and the people of Pennsylvania. You can also follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
While critics have tried to paint Fair Districts as partisan, both major parties have used gerrymandering to their advantage for decades. We oppose it no matter which side does it. And we also note, no issue with two-thirds support can be labeled partisan.
Join us today, because until this changes, nothing changes. Not Red, Not Blue, Just Fair!