This week, Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process. On Wednesday, October 4, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hold a hearing challenging the constitutionality of the state’s congressional district maps. Petitioners in this case, which include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and individual citizens from across the state, claim that their votes have been rendered meaningless by maps intentionally drawn by state legislators to favor Republican outcomes. Proponents of redistricting reform are calling on Pennsylvania voters to show their support by packing the courtroom for the 10:00 a.m. hearing and the ensuing press conference.
Partisan gerrymandering – drawing voting district lines with the goal of benefiting a particular political party, either Republican or Democratic – is also in the national spotlight this week. As the United States Supreme Court opens its 2017-2018 term, it will hear oral arguments in a Wisconsin case involving claims of gerrymandering for political gain in that state.
In fact, at the hearing in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is calling on the Commonwealth Court to delay the Pennsylvania case until the Supreme Court renders its decision in the Wisconsin case, which may not happen until mid-2018. According to the Public Interest Law Center, “[t]here are no legal or factual grounds for the General Assembly’s request, and such a delay further violates the fundamental rights of all voters in our state.” In addition, the center points out that the Wisconsin case is focused on the U.S. Constitution, while the Pennsylvania case is based on the state constitution.
Why should Pennsylvania voters care about this issue? Because our elected representatives are supposed to be accountable to the voters – but with district lines drawn to protect incumbents, government accountability disappears. Carol Kuniholm of Fair Districts PA reports that she has heard “from mayors who point to their gerrymandered cities and towns and ask, ‘Who represents us? Who in Harrisburg is paying any attention?’” Even those legislators trying to respond to the needs of their constituents struggle when their contorted districts include a patchwork of different counties spread over large geographic areas. In fact, things are so bad here in Pennsylvania that in a recent research report by the Brennan Center for Justice, Pennsylvania was identified as one of three states to “consistently have the most extreme levels of partisan bias” in its district maps.
Fair voting districts are the foundation of accountable and responsive government. Let’s show the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court how important this issue is to Pennsylvania voters by coming out to Wednesday’s hearing in Harrisburg.