Democracy means voters choose their politicians. Current Pennsylvania law lets politicians choose their voters.
Here’s how things got backwards: Current PA law puts state legislators in charge of redistricting—the process of redrawing voting districts, which happens every 10 years to reflect population changes. (It happens next after the 2020 census.)
Letting legislators draw their own districts is a conflict of interest from the start, but there are many other ways it goes wrong:
The current process is redistricting gone wrong—a process driven by partisan politics, mapping technology, big data, and outside money.
The result is gerrymandering: the practice of manipulating voting districts to benefit parties, not people.
Gerrymandered districts give voters less voice and less choice, and yields polarization instead of problem-solving in Harrisburg and Washington.
The 2022 redistricting process yielded far better maps than in past decades, in part due to a conscientious commission chair, in part due to an attentive PA Supreme Court, in part thanks to thousands of PA citizens paying close attention.
But without real reform, the process is still partisan, still allows legislators to choose their voters, and continues to fuel partisan distrust.
Even well-meaning politicians can’t do their jobs: They can’t represent spread-out communities with different needs and priorities, effectively maintain offices across wide geographic areas, or do the real work of governing: solving problems that affect us all.
Gerrymandering also allows outside money and influence to control parties’ agendas, and makes it easier for extremists to gain control of the party.
We’ve also learned that there’s a tight connection between PA’s partisan redistricting process and legislative rules that shut out real representation. Just a few legislative leaders, mostly from very safe one-party districts, control the agenda and block bipartisan solutions that would benefit the people of Pennsylvania.
Gerrymandering is a tough problem, but we have a solution—and the momentum to make it happen. PA needs an independent citizens redistricting commission and clear guidelines for how districts should be drawn. To get there, we’ll need a PA constitutional amendment, and procedural rules that allow bills with broad bipartisan support to finally be given a vote.
The key to all of that will be: public attention and citizen advocacy from every corner of PA.