It is a good thing that Pennsylvania lawmakers want to add increased layers of transparency when the state’s congressional maps are redrawn later this year. It would be a better thing if that increased transparency came with some independent participation at the final stages, where real, lasting decisions are made.
This week, state Rep. Seth Grove said state legislators will host at least eight public meetings across Pennsylvania to seek public input into the state’s new congressional maps. Suggestions for new map design can also be submitted to a new website. Both prospects are supported by Fair Districts PA, a statewide, nonpartisan volunteer organization created to stop gerrymandering in the commonwealth.
It has been a roller-coaster for Pennsylvania’s voting maps over the past 10 years, particularly later in the decade. Grove said the maps created after the 2010 census were done in about a week and without “any public input this early on,” he said. In 2018, the state’s Supreme Court tossed the maps as illegally gerrymandered, which led to a court battle and the current maps eventually coming from the Supreme Court.
Those maps will be changed, which means this year’s redistricting plans to be just as tough. Pennsylvania is dropping from 18 to 17 congressional districts next year due to slowing population growth across the state. Significant changes are coming.
Now, Pennsylvanians hoping for fair representation without partisanship are hanging their hopes on “rhetorical promises of transparency,” as SpotlightPa called Grove’s announcement this week.
“This new process will prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and promote accountability by the voters,” said State Rep. Wendi Thomas, a Republican from Bucks County who has previously pushed redistricting legislation in recent years.
It sounds like it could, but that doesn’t mean it definitely will. These new steps do “not safeguard the process” or “guarantee a fair outcome,” Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, told SpotlightPa.
Redistricting, and the gerrymandering that inevitably comes with it, has always been a partisan issue. It does not matter which party is in power. Democrats do it; Republicans do too.
That is why it is vital for an independent voice to be involved at all levels. That means becoming educated on what fair, realistic and manageable maps look like, but also there needs to be a voice in the room when final decisions are made.
Having input from the public is certainly a step forward, but eventually, politics will inevitably seep into the process because politicians are involved and many are interested in maintaining power no matter what. The easiest way to do that is have politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around.
That is why it is vital independent arbiters play a key role here, ensuring all Pennsylvanians are fairly represented.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.