February 20, 2018
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling tossing out the state’s 2011 congressional map was a welcome statement that gerrymandering can become so blatantly partisan and excessive that it violates the state Constitution.
The new map established by the court on Monday, while imperfect, is a clear improvement, in terms of compactness and limiting county splits. That said, much more work remains to be done to give Pennsylvania voters the open, orderly, people-driven redistricting process they deserve.
The court’s ruling provides a necessary foundation for that work of reform, but it is far from sufficient.
The court has fixed one bad map. It has not fixed the broken process that produced that bad map and will continue (unless changed) to produce problematic congressional and legislative maps.
What’s more, the court’s accelerated timetable for enforcing its remedy put into high relief the deep flaws in any process that relies on self-interested politicians to handle redistricting.
The chaotic weeks since the court’s ruling have been filled with partisan sniping and rushed decisions made behind closed doors. The result is that this new map, whatever its merits, will always live beneath a partisan cloud.
Remember, Pennsylvania will have to draw new maps in 2021, just three years from now. And It likely will have to draw its congressional map from scratch due to the loss of at least one seat in reapportionment.
We need to fix this process now, taking it out of the hands of the partisan operatives who have failed us so badly and putting it into the hands of civic-minded voters.
The proposed constitutional amendment for an independent citizens redistricting commission is one way to do that. The Committee of Seventy has long supported the amendment, and continues to.
But we all must be clear that, even if the amendment should fail later this year, hope is not lost. Much useful work of reform remains to be done and can be done.
Our Draw the Lines PA initiative, which will put the digital tools to create commonsense maps into the hand of voters and students across the Commonwealth, seeks to bolster the case for the needed reforms. We look forward to working with our friends in Fair Districts PA on that essential quest.
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The Committee of Seventy is an independent nonprofit advocate for better politics and better government in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information, see www.seventy.org.