Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections joined organizations from across the state this week to announce the formation of a new coalition called Fair Districts PA.
The coalition’s purpose is to advocate for reform of Pennsylvania’s redistricting system to make the process of drawing electoral districts impartial, transparent and accountable.
Congressional and state legislative electoral maps are redrawn every 10 years following the national census. In Pennsylvania, the process of drawing those maps is controlled almost entirely by state legislators, a conflict of interest that puts politicians in charge and takes away the rights of voters.
Some states – most notably Arizona and California – have reformed the process by establishing impartial citizen commissions and clear standards for how districts should be drawn. The results have shown increased voter engagement and more competitive elections.
Fair District PA’s priorities include:
- Assigning the redistricting power to an independent commission, of which neither the commissioners (nor members of their immediate families) may be members of the government or political party officials
- Ensuring the transparency of the process and meaningful opportunities for public participation
- Addressing other causes of districting unfairness
“Our current redistricting process creates noncompetitive, politically safe districts that contribute to crippling gridlock and make it almost impossible for voters to hold their elected officials accountable,” Susan Carty, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said. “When politicians manipulate districts lines to benefit incumbents or maintain party control, citizens are deprived of meaningful choice and lose confidence in the democratic process.”
The debate over gerrymandering is nothing new to Pennsylvania. Multiple lawsuits were filed after the most recent redistictricting effort, one that resulted in a 2012 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that ordered that Pennsylvania’s legislative maps be redrawn because they violated the state constitution.
The Washington Post has described Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District as one of the most gerrymandered in the country, and Pennsylvania is regularly mentioned in discussions of states with notoriously unfair districts.
“Philadelphia is home to some of the most manipulative maps in the country, and the Committee of 70 is dedicated to ensuring our residents’ votes have a meaningful impact on their elections,” said David Thornburgh, president of Committee of 70. “It is only with a fair and transparent process that we can right this wrong and begin to focus on the issues that concern Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians most.”
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause PA, will be co-chairing the effort, along with Carol Kuniholm, who is responsible for League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania’s work on election-reform issues.
Those organizations are joined by other groups concerned with accountable government and representative democracy, including Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Committee of Seventy and Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections.
Real change would require a constitutional amendment, but Fair Districts PA is encouraged by a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators working together to address the behind-closed-doors redistricting process they consider a primary factor in current legislative dysfunction.
“Common Cause and others have been advocating for redistricting reform across the country for decades,” Kauffman said. “With the momentum we’ve seen in recent years, I think we have an excellent opportunity to pass meaningful legislation and finally give our elections back to the voters so that our government truly is of, by and for the people.”
To learn more, visit the coalition’s website at www.fairdistrictspa.com.