Gerrymandering In Pennsylvania

By Nicholas Sones

Gerrymandering is wrong, but it is politics. Politics is about winning. Recently in Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court, controlled by Democrats, ruled the congressional maps to be redrawn, and, on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

The legislature has until February 9 to redraw the maps. Governor Tom Wolf has until February 15 to accept the maps, so that the elections may proceed. Some in the legislature, including the House Speaker who is running for governor, Mike Turzai, have refused to redraw the maps; others refuse to turn over data related to the maps.

The data should be turned over.

This is a difficult issue because the primary in Pennsylvania is held on May 15. Candidates have until March 6 to turn petitions in for their respective offices. Petitions are available starting on February 13.

I have talked to several campaign managers and for them, it is the issue of not knowing what district their candidate will be in, for voters who do not know which congressional district they reside.

We should wait until after the November elections are over to redraw the maps. Certainly, there is a political risk to doing so. For example, Democrats could lose the governor’s race.

Some have suggested what this ruling could trigger would be two separate primaries: one for State party leaders, including those running for state party committees, and then one for candidates for governor and Congress. Several candidates’ political directors have shot this down. This would instantly lead to disastrous voter turnout numbers and other problems. Most would claim they had already voted for candidates in the election. This, in turn, would create disruption.

Some have proposed to allow an independent body to draw the maps. I am not opposed to allowing an independent body draw the maps. Several states use an independent commission to redraw their legislative maps: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington. The states which use an independent commission to redraw legislative lines are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Iowa has a non-partisan group of congressional staffers create their maps.

Pennsylvania is using an independent commission, but only to a degree. According to Pennsylvania’s State Constitution, the process is that the majority and minority leaders of the legislative houses each choose one member. These four members select a fifth to chair. The chair cannot be a public official. An independent commission technically is already drawing the maps. This is how they claim bipartisanship.

It appears that this is all for showmanship, it would be wise for the people of Pennsylvania to wait and have the redrawn districts apply to 2020 elections.

If Democrats controlled the legislature in 2011, when maps were required to be redrawn, would we be so naïve to believe that the maps would look any different?

Certainly, these maps would look different to protect members of the Democratic Party, but they would not be acceptable. It is as if Pennsylvania Democrats have forgotten that redistricting is about winning elections just as much as it is about showmanship.

The people of Pennsylvania should not have to wait until February 15 to find out what legislative district they reside. Therefore, Democrats in Pennsylvania should act like adults, and sometimes as adults, we find out that means waiting and dealing with the situation as it is. Republicans won in 2010, which meant that in 2011, they could redraw the maps when redistricting mattered. It is 2018, seven years have gone by, and it was not an issue until seven years later.

The lone Democrat to object to the decision agreed that the maps are unconstitutional, as I have done above, but the disruption is too great an issue to rush the process.