We Need Your Help To Slay The Gerrymander

— by Lora Lavin, Representative Government Specialist, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice need your help to launch to redistricting contest. The contest would set a fair baseline by which politician-drawn maps could be measured.

  • Left unchecked: politicians choose their voters instead of letting voters select their representatives.
  • Gerrymandering is the equivalent of rigging elections to get a predetermined outcome.
  • We believe some good old-fashioned competition can keep politicians honest.

The biggest political power-play of the decade is about to get underway in Pennsylvania.   It is, perhaps, the most  self-serving and least transparent process of state and local government.  It’s called redistricting.  The outcome will determine the shape of representative democracy in Pennsylvania for the next decade.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing congressional, legislative, and local government representatives’ district boundaries so that each district has approximately the same number of people.  The goal is to ensure communities have an equal voice in Congress, state legislatures and city and township councils.  

But the politicians don’t see it that way.  In Pennsylvania and most other states, district lines are drawn by the very lawmakers whose political careers will be affected by the changes.  For them, redistricting is an opportunity to consolidate political power and ensure their reelection prospects.  For example, Philadelphia’s 172nd House District was transformed during the previous redistricting in order to guarantee the reelection of a powerful legislator.  It was only after a political scandal that he was eventually defeated last year.

Modern technology makes this kind of extreme gerrymandering possible.  Using expensive and sophisticated software, politicians can select their voters block by block and even house by house.  The tools they use are “proprietary” meaning access is limited to those with the ability to pay lots of money.  But now, a Philadelphia based software firm, Azavea, in partnership with a political science professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has developed DistrictBuilder. This relatively inexpensive open-source redistricting tool can be used by ordinary citizens to draw district maps and bring elections back into the hands of the people.  

To see how Profs. Michael McDonald (George Mason Univ., Brooking Inst.) and Micah Altman (Harvard, Brookings Inst.) used DistrictBuilder to run Virginia’s redistricting contest, visit the Public Mapping Project website demopublicmapping.org.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in partnership with JSPAN, Common Cause/PA and the PA League of Women Voters want to use DistrictBuilder to sponsor a redistricting competition and demonstrate that a non-partisan, open redistricting process based on objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional district maps in Pennsylvania.  The competition would be open to individuals.  The winners would be selected through an objective scoring system based on anti-gerrymandering criteria of compactness, competitiveness, representativeness, equality and integrity.

The three sponsoring organizations can contribute $6,000 toward prizes and incidental competition costs.  But to use the software we need to raise $35,000 before May 1.  Can you help?  To make a tax-deductible contribution click the button or contact [email protected] (Contributions directed to this project will be refunded if we do not meet our fundraising goal.)

For more information or become a co-sponsoring organizations, please contact Dan Loeb [email protected]

More after the jump.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is organized pursuant to Pennsylvania’s non-profit corporation law. We have tax exempt status under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). For more information visit GuideStar.

Contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. The official registrations and financial information of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.

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