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Redistricting should be nonpartisan

Once again turning their backs on voters, Pennsylvania lawmakers are ramming through a new map of congressional districts that stretches boundaries and splits communities to protect incumbents.

The legislature never gave voters a credible chance to have real input into who will represent them. Voters wouldn't have been so marginalized were there a genuine bipartisan process that required their participation.

The most disjointed district protects freshman U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.), whose new district would run through friendly areas of Delaware, Chester, Lancaster, Montgomery, and Berks Counties. Mapmakers shaved off Democratic pockets of Meehan's current Delaware County-based district, including Upper Darby, and gave them to U.S. Rep. and city Democratic Party chairman Bob Brady of Philadelphia.

Three other GOP freshmen will also benefit from new district lines that include more Republicans, thus making it safer for them to seek reelection.

Because a loss of population will cause the state to lose a House seat, bringing its total down to 18, Republican mapmakers decided the erased seat would be in a traditionally Democratic area. Two Western Pennsylvania Democrats were pushed into one district, and now must face each other in a primary.

Republican senators unveiled their proposed map Tuesday. The Senate voted it out Wednesday, and the Republican-controlled lower chamber is set to follow up with its approval next week. Things are moving so quickly, even the experts don't understand the map's full implications.

That is not by accident. The legislature purposefully created a sense of emergency, which allowed it to push the map through quickly, knowing candidates want to begin circulating nominating petitions in six weeks.

Mapmakers have had census data since April. Those figures are used to draw House seats to reflect population shifts.

There were some public hearings, but they were exercises in futility. Without proposed maps to comment on, voters had no chance to provide meaningful input.

But this is nothing new. In Pennsylvania, the legislature is in charge of redistricting, and this time Republicans control the legislature, so they drew a map to favor their own. Next time, Democrats may be in charge and follow the same pattern of putting politics ahead of the public.

That just doesn't work for voters. Other states have taken redistricting out of the hands of self-serving legislators, and instead appointed nonpartisan commissions. In New Jersey, both parties appoint members to a commission, and then agree on an outsider to serve as a tiebreaker.

It is time for Pennsylvania to inject fairness and real public input into drawing district lines.