The June 4 letter ("Reform in name only") from Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) attempts to explain why she, as chair of the House State Government Committee, blocked a vote on an essential redistricting reform bill. Regrettably, her letter contains numerous errors and omissions.
H.B. 2420 would depoliticize redistricting by putting the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau in charge. The bureau's director claims his staff lacks necessary skills. But in Iowa, which uses the model for nonpartisan redistricting on which H.B. 2420 is based, one attorney, one computer systems specialist, and one temporary data worker - employees of the Legislative Services Agency - carry out redistricting.
If Pennsylvania's geography requires additional mapping expertise, the bureau could hire experts from state universities.
The director fears redistricting would compromise the nonpartisan reputation of the bureau. H.B. 2420, however, rules out partisan maneuvers such as considering recent voting patterns, voter registration data, and incumbents' addresses in drawing district lines. In addition, the transparency of the process will demonstrate impartiality.
Josephs wrongly claims the bill gives "a bureaucrat full authority to make hundreds of critical decisions." H.B. 2420 requires consultation with an advisory commission, a public record of all redistricting communications, widespread publication of proposed plans, and public hearings throughout the state.
Josephs says she is willing to "examine alternative proposals." However, time is running out to reform the system for the 2011 round of redistricting. Reform organizations and 93 lawmakers, cosponsors of H.B. 2420, stand ready to work with Josephs to give Pennsylvanians fairer representation in the next decade's elections.
League of Women Voters