Pennsylvanians Take Exception to Partisan Redistricting

Last month the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Committee revealed their partisan state legislative redistricting plan minutes before rubber stamping it in a party line vote.

Concerned citizens across the Commonwealth stated their grievances with the plan by filing “exceptions” as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution. In Harrisburg, on November 23, the Committee heard testimony demonstrating various objections to the redistricting plan.

Article II, Section 16 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution says that State House and Senate districts “shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable” and that “unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”

The failure of released preliminary maps to follow the Pennsylvania Constitution left multiple counties, municipalities, and wards suffering. Amanda Holt explained what went wrong and how the commission can correct this.

no splits of political subdivisions are allowed unless leaving them whole creates a district which violates one of the other constitutional requirements of being compact, contiguous, or of equal population.

Her alternate redistricting plan dramatically reduces the number of counties and townships being split while preserving the compactness, population equality and contiguity of the official LRC plan.

For example, Liz Rogan, President of the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township, explained how her township is being sliced and diced. Since redistricting after the 2000 census, Lower Merion went from being represented by two state representatives to three representatives and now, following the 2010 Census, this proposal will have Lower Merion represented by four House members. However, as shown in Amanda Holt’s plan and as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution, Lower Merion need not and must not be divided into multiple legislative districts.

Liz Rogan’s full remarks follow the jump.

Links:

  • Amanda Holt’s oral testimony: transcript and video.
  • Amanda Holt’s Full testimony including maps & illustrations. (Large file may take a couple of minutes to load.)
  • Holt website.
  • Anyone who wishes to show support of Amanda Holt’s proposal may let the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission know through their contact page.

Testimony before the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission

Good afternoon. I’m Elizabeth Rogan and I serve as the President of the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County. However, today I am speaking for myself and on behalf of those I represent, as well as those living in Wards 4, 8 and 14, not on behalf of the full Board.

I’m honored to have this opportunity to testify before you today and thank you for your attention and for considering my comments. With all due respect for the time and energy of the individuals who worked to prepare the proposal, I am requesting you reconsider and revise the proposed plan.

It seems appropriate and timely to share a bit about myself to explain why I say I have the utmost respect for you and the individuals who prepared the redistricting plan. By way of background, I’m a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a professional in the field of planning and community development. Prior to taking office as a Commissioner in Lower Merion Township, I served as the Assistant and then the Director of Lower Merion’s Department of Planning & Community Development. But… way back when, in 1982, when I started my career, my very first assignment was to prepare and present a proposed redistricting plan to the City Council in Binghamton, N.Y. Well, that was certainly a real welcome to the grown up world of planning and politics!

And now, almost 30 years later, I find myself presenting testimony to you as a local elected official. Not quite what I envisioned oh so long ago!

So, on to the point of my testimony. Lower Merion is a First Class Township of 24 square miles that is now proposed to be represented not by 2, not by 3, but by 4 different House members. Since redistricting after the 2000 census, Lower Merion went from being represented by 2 state representatives to 3 representatives and now, following the 2010 Census, this proposal will have Lower Merion represented by 4 House members.

The venerable & non-partisan PA League of Women Voters states that redistricting should advance the fundamental purposes of a representative democracy, by giving the people a meaningful choice in electing their representatives, and, by holding government accountable to the people. The district boundaries should meet the following standards – in order of their importance:

  • Protecting the voting rights of minorities.
  • Promoting competitiveness and partisan fairness.
  • Respecting political subdivisions and communities of interest.
  • Encouraging geographical compactness and respecting natural geographic features and
    barriers.

I presume that by now you’re growing weary of hearing “why” it’s important to reapportion the
state’s population in a manner that creates competitive legislative districts. There’s no doubt that you’re committed to ensuring elected representatives are accountable to their constituents. And, theoretically there should be support for creating legislative districts that facilitate candidates having substantive debates and/or competitive races. And, most elected officials support the notion of seeking common ground with their opposition; and believe that bipartisan cooperation leads to better legislative outcomes.

Knowing why it’s important, and having, as my grandmother used to say, the “chutzpa,” to do something about it, are two very different things. Purposefully creating boundaries that meet the League of Women Voter’s standards could jeopardize your seat or that of a trusted colleague’s.

So, over the last two decades, the legislative boundaries created in our Commonwealth have
effectively eliminated competition and brought us to the point where re-election rates now exceed 98%.

Elected officials generally support and value the benefits of a representative democracy. I believe you would fight long and hard against attempts to wrest power from your constituents.

And, as successfully elected representatives, you likely work to actively and effectively represent your constituency. However, as redistricting changes the areas w/in a legislative district, perhaps by including parts of many different municipalities or by including several communities with distinctly different issues and/or interests, is that representative as effective and/or as available to their constituents as another representative whose district is geographically compact and includes constituents with common issues and goals? Do these outlying or minority constituents feel they have equal representation? My concern and point, is, that voters will certainly become more cynical and less interested in government and politics when the outcome of legislative elections continues to be effectively pre-determined.

It appears that the population of each proposed legislative district is between 61,000 and 64,000 people. Lower Merion, as a whole, is nearly that size, w/a 2010 population of 58,740; yet the current proposal divvies up the community and requires it to be represented by 4 House members. The need for any division is even more questionable when one considers that Narberth Borough, with a 2010 population of 4,282, is completely surrounded by Lower Merion Township, so, taken together, the population of both jurisdictions falls right within the average size of the proposed legislative districts.

If you refer to the display board, you will see that each representative will be faced w/the challenge of equally representing a diverse population, living in very different communities.

  • As proposed, the 194th District includes the northeast corner of Lower Merion in Montgomery County, and various parts of Philadelphia County, including for example, Roxborough, Manayunk, Germantown and East Falls.
  • The 166th District would include 2 Counties; a fraction of Montgomery County, that being the southeast corner of Lower Merion
    Township. The remainder of the District is in Delaware County and includes small areas of Upper Darby, Marple and Radnor Townships, all most all of Haverford Township and a small section of Marple.

The 148th & 149th Districts are all within Montgomery County, but the state representatives would have to coordinate with and represent the varied interests of and residents in many separate jurisdictions.

  • The 148th District includes 7 jurisdictions, the middle section of Lower Merion; all of Whitemarsh Township, Ambler, Narberth & Conshohocken Boroughs, more than half of Whitpain Township and two precincts in Plymouth Township.
  • The 149th District includes 5 different municipalities; a long, narrow band of Lower Merion along the Delaware County line; all of Upper Merion Township, West Conshohocken & Bridgeport Boroughs; and a very small section of West Norton Township.

Certainly some may argue that having more representatives is advantageous, but as a professional planner, and someone who is committed to and believes in our American ideal of democracy, I ask you to resist the “status quo.” Please, rethink this proposal and revise it to create more geographically compact districts. Districts that respect political subdivisions, promote competitiveness and that protect the voting rights of minorities.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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