Fair Districts PA Coalition Making Our Vote Count

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the League of Women Voters and other organizations across the state announced the formation of a new coalition called Fair Districts PA. The coalition’s purpose is to advocate for reform of Pennsylvania’s redistricting rules to make the process of drawing electoral districts impartial, transparent, and accountable.

Pennsylvania's current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Pennsylvania’s current redistricting plan is on the left. A hypothetical plan with compact districts is above on the right.

Congressional and state legislative electoral maps are redrawn every ten years following the national census. In Pennsylvania, the process of drawing those maps is controlled almost entirely by state legislators, a conflict of interest that puts politicians in charge and takes away the rights of voters.

Some states, most notably Arizona and California, have reformed the process by establishing impartial citizen commissions and clear standards for how districts are to be drawn. The results have shown increased voter engagement and more competitive elections.

Fair District PA’s priorities include:

  • Assigning the redistricting power to an independent commission, of which neither the commissioners, nor members of their immediate families, may be government or political party officials.
  • Ensuring the transparency of the process and meaningful opportunities for public participation.
  • Establishing verifiable statistical standards for a fair election process.

According to Susan Carty, President of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania,

our current redistricting process creates uncompetitive, politically safe districts that contribute to crippling gridlock and make it almost impossible for voters to hold their elected officials accountable. When politicians manipulate districts lines to benefit incumbents or maintain party control, citizens are deprived of meaningful choice and lose confidence in the democratic process.

7th_distThe debate over gerrymandering is nothing new to Pennsylvania. Multiple lawsuits were filed after the most recent census, resulting in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 2012 ordering that the state’s legislative maps be redrawn because they violated the state constitution. The Washington Post has described Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District as one of the most gerrymandered in the country and Pennsylvania is regularly mentioned in discussions of states with notoriously unfair districts.

“Philadelphia is home to some of the most manipulative maps in the country, and the Committee of 70 is dedicated to ensuring that our resident’s votes have a meaningful impact on their elections. It is only with a fair and transparent process that we can right this wrong and begin to focus on the issues that concern Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians most,” said David Thornburgh, President of Committee of 70.

Barry Kauffman, Executive Director of Common Cause PA, will be co-chairing the effort, along with Carol Kuniholm, responsible for League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania’s work on election reform issues. Those organizations are joined by other groups concerned with accountable government and representative democracy, including the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Committee of 70 and Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections.

crackReal change would require a constitutional amendment, but Fair Districts PA is encouraged by a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators working together to address the behind-closed-doors redistricting process that they consider a primary factor in current legislative dysfunction.

According to Kauffman, “Common Cause and others have been advocating for redistricting reform across the country for decades. With the momentum we’ve seen in recent years, I think we have an excellent opportunity to pass meaningful legislation and finally give our elections back to the voters so that our government truly is of, by and for the people.”

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