UPDATE 6/15/18: Please see our latest statement on redistricting reform efforts in Pennsylvania for the most recent information and our current position on redistricting legislation.
A core piece of PUMP’s Advocacy + Public Policy Agenda is our vision for a region where all residents—especially our constituents, the young people of Pittsburgh—are active and engaged. Crucial to this vision is our belief in the importance of “equitable legislative districts that fairly represent all voting populations.” Our agenda was created out of a grassroots community process that empowered our constituents to share their vision for the Pittsburgh region—and our constituents told us that they know the importance of equitable legislative districts and they disapprove of gerrymandering, where district maps are drawn to benefit partisan interests.
If passed, these bills would establish an independent citizens’ commission that would be responsible for drawing district lines, taking the power out of the hands of politicians. Currently, district maps in Pennsylvania are drawn by the state legislature. This gives the ruling party at the time the maps are redrawn a huge advantage, because they can create districts that protect their interests. Fair Districts PA, which formed in December 2016, has been advocating for this legislation. They recognize the huge impact that partisan gerrymandering has on our democracy, as it allows the people in power to choose their voters, instead of empowering voters to choose who is in power.
At PUMP, we don’t want districts where the votes of a particular voting population are diluted across multiple districts, preventing them from electing someone who truly represents their interests, which is why we are an endorsing organization of Fair Districts PA. We don’t want districts where a significant voting population is compressed into a single district to ensure they only have the power to elect one representative. Nor do we want districts that break up municipalities unnecessarily or look like “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” instead of the communities we live in.
We want districts that are equitable, districts that empower all voices, and districts that are competitive, so that politicians have to work to earn our votes. In short, we want fair districts. If these bills successfully go through the legislative process (details and timeline outlined by Fair Districts here), an independent redistricting commission could be established before the district lines are due to be redrawn in 2021 following the 2020 census.
The issue of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and around the country has been gaining more attention by the public, the media, and the courts in the past few months (learn more in our recent blog post). Recently, the PA Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts violate the state constitution because they give partisan advantage to Republicans, who controlled the legislature when the lines were last redrawn in 2011. On February 5, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the Republican’s appeal to the PA Supreme Court’s ruling, meaning that the ruling stands and a new, nonpartisan map must be drawn prior to the May 2018 primaries. The ruling gave the state legislature a deadline of February 15, 2018, to propose a new map.
After the ruling, Governor Wolf participated in a three day listening tour to hear from Pennsylvanians about what makes districts fair. Gov. Wolf joined a panel at Point Park University on Thursday, February 1st, to hear from Pittsburghers. One community member told the room, “I want maps that will inspire people to vote.”
On February 9, Republican legislative leaders submitted a new congressional map to Governor Tom Wolf, which he rejected on February 13 after experts found that the new map was another partisan gerrymander. Governor Wolf’s rejection of the map means that the PA Supreme Court will now be in charge of drawing the new map, which is to be in place prior to the 2018 May primaries.
However, this is a short term solution to gerrymandering. While this could fix the current congressional lines, it won’t change the way that district lines are drawn—meaning that in the future, maps could again be redrawn to benefit one party or group over another. In order to ensure fair, equitable legislative districts, we need systemic change in the process of drawing district maps. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 22 and Pennsylvania House Bill 722 will create the change we need to see.