Can Pennsylvania’s politicians get the hint?
For years, Democrats have been blaming Republicans for Congressional and state legislative districts so lopsided that GOP incumbents get reelected with ease. Republicans and Democrats alike have gerrymandered their districts around friendly voters. It’s so easy to win reelection in those districts, politicians don’t have to compromise with the other party or even pay attention to voters — especially ones with differing points of view.
But the table has been turned on Republicans, the party in power in the state legislature. Democrats have control over the state Supreme Court, which was controlled by Republicans the last time new districts were drawn.
The process for drawing congressional districts is written in the election code. That means the legislature can and should pass bills to form a mapmaking commission independent of petty partisanship to replace the current system. That system has the party in charge drawing maps on its own and keeping the voters in the dark.
It’s trickier for state legislative districts because that process is written into the state constitution and requires a constitutional amendment to change it. Legislators have to take two successive votes in two sessions on the amendment so it can be ready for voters to ratify in May 2021.
That’s a tight timetable, but it’s well worth the effort. Now, legislative district maps are determined by two Republicans, two Democrats, and a swing voter, appointed by the Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court is in Democratic hands, Republicans would be wise to clean up the current system or watch their comfy districts go away.
But that may be expecting too much. Republicans have refused to participate in Wolf’s commission, which includes policy experts and individuals from both parties. The governor’s commission doesn’t have the force of law, but it will be traveling the state to hear voter ideas and drum up support.
Voters want districts representative of their interests. In November, voters passed redistricting reform measures in Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, and Utah. In Pennsylvania, thanks to the work of activists, including FairDistrictsPa, Common Cause, and the Committee of Seventy, people are grasping the importance of choosing their own representatives.
Republicans, who control the legislature and thus redistricting, as well as Democrats, who think they can use the Supreme Court to help them win the redistricting battle, should see that the public doesn’t want to be in the dark anymore. They should pass bills that would create an independent commission, composed of members of the public as well as experts.