If politics were sports, someone would call a delay of game penalty on the Republicans for illegally trying to run out the clock while they are ahead.
What is happening?
Every ten years, the United States takes a census of its population, and the states must then redraw their Congressional and State Legislative Districts to take into account shifts in population over the last ten years. Since politicians are drawing their own districts, this process is rife with conflicts of interest as politicians choose their constituents most likely to reelect them into office.
In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a clear advantage in the redistricting process since they control the governorship, both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court. The only limits on their power is recourse to courts by groups disenfranchised via violations to the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, the GOP seeks to close this window of opportunity.
Paragraph (c) of Section 17 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution lays out the calendar for how redistricting is supposed to work:
No later than ninety days after either the commission has been duly certified or the population data for the Commonwealth as determined by the Federal decennial census are available, whichever is later in time, the commission shall file a preliminary reapportionment plan with such elections officer. The commission shall have thirty days after filling the preliminary plan to make corrections in the plan. Any person aggrieved by the preliminary plan shall have the same thirty-day period to file exceptions with the commission in which case the commission shall thirty days after the date the exceptions were filled to prepare and file with such elections officer a revised reapportionment plan. If no exceptions are filled within thirty days, or if filed and acted upon, the commission’s plan shall be final and have the force of law.
The Census Bureau released the data for Pennsylvania on March 11, but the Legislative Reapportionment Commission delayed choosing their 5th and final member until the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and named Judge Stephen McEwen (R) on April 19.
According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution:
- the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18.
- There would then be 30 days for “corrections” and hearings, leading a final plan by August 17.
- Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by September 16.
This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year’s elections.
However, the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission have their own unique calendar. According to them, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. Last Wednesday, August 17, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first public meeting and they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania, and declare that this would start the 90-day clock.
By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans have bought themselves four months of time, instead of being already beyond the deadline, they can “deliberate” until November 15. They can then issue “corrections” and hold “hearings” until December 15. In theory, the citizens of Pennsylvania can then file any appeals in hopes of restoring their right to equitable representation. However, in practice the courts will have their back against the wall as candidates are already starting their campaigns including preparing the petitions (due February 14, 2012) to qualify for the April primary.
The Republican legislators hope to carve Pennsylvania in districts according to their political calculus, and run out the clock to avoid any potential challenges to their fait accompli.
More after the jump.
Why doesn’t the Democratic Minority raise a hue and cry about this outrage? Perhaps they are afraid to make waves and ended up being excised from the district which they represent. Or perhaps they are content to see the Republicans districts being fortified, knowing that all those unwanted Democratic voters will end up getting tossed into Democratic districts. The Pennsylvania citizen is the real loser here since redistricting is being used as a tool to protect incumbants. As a result less incumbants than necessary will have to worry about their reelection, and some politicians may be less responsive to their constituents as a result.
What can be done about this?
- Contact your State Representative, your State Senator, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and the House and Senate State Government Committees.
- Contribute to the effort by the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, JSPAN, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause to “Slay the Gerrymander” and allow ordinary citizens to participate in the redistricting process.
- Attend or speak at the Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s public hearings in Allentown (Sep. 7) and Pittsburgh (Sep. 14).
- And encourage your friends and colleagues to take an active role in our democracy by doing the same.