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On a Quest to End Gerrymandering and Make a “Good Map”

Anne Hanna.

They canvass. They lobby. They protest. Concerned citizens insert themselves into the political process on behalf of the public good in different ways. Anne Hanna, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, became politically active in the best way she knew how: by using her computational and data analysis skills in the fight against partisan gerrymandering — a fight that is front-and-center in Pennsylvania right now. [Read more…]

Unrigging Our Elections

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in League of Women Voters v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was just handed down. In its opinion, the court held that Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps violate the state constitution. The ruling also requires that the maps be redrawn in time for the May 2018 primaries.

People who are concerned that elections in the U.S. are “rigged” should be thrilled with the wave of new court cases on partisan gerrymandering, which voice this contention, and even better, propose remedies for the problem. [Read more…]

A Hanukkah Miracle

On the first night of Hanukkah, the state of Alabama witnessed a miracle of its own: the voters of this very red state elected a Democrat to the United States Senate for the first time in 27 years. In a highly publicized special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore, who was endorsed by President Trump, has been accused by multiple women of predatory sexual misconduct, dating back years ago when the women were teenagers and Moore was a much older man.

In Jones’ victory speech, the new senator-elect thanked family, friends and campaign staff, as well as voters of different demographics, even wishing a happy Hanukkah to his Jewish supporters.

Congress to Gut State Gun Control Laws?

Black Berretta hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

Hand gun. Photo: Gander Mountain.

— by Jeff Dempsey, CeaseFirePA

A bill that would gut state gun laws, and force states to accept the more lax concealed weapon carry standards of other states, passed the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee this week. For example, we have a licensing system in Pennsylvania which relies on a strong background check, but this bill would force us to honor concealed carry permits from states with weaker systems, and even states like Mississippi, which doesn’t require a license or permit to carry at all. The mandatory Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill (H.R. 38), is a proposal that would make it legal for more dangerous and untrained people to carry hidden guns in more public places. Despite the fact that we’ve had the worst mass shooting in modern American history this year, Congress is still doing the NRA’s bidding and pushing for action that will weaken our gun laws. [Read more…]

Lynne Honickman Grants $100,000 for Matching Donations to CeaseFirePA

Honickman donation to CeaseFirePA announced at City Hall

Honickman donation to CeaseFirePA announced.

With a $100,000 challenge grant to CeaseFirePA, Lynne Honickman, founder and president of The Honickman Foundation and a board member of CeaseFirePA, is supporting communities calling for an end to gun violence. The foundation’s grant was publicly announced at a ceremony at City Hall attended by Honickman, Governor Ed Rendell, Councilman Darrell Clarke and executive director of CeaseFirePA, Shira Goodman. [Read more…]

Update on Redistricting Cases With Potential Pennsylvania Impact

The issue of partisan gerrymandering was on the docket during the first week in October, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in courts in Pennsylvania. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of intentionally drawing voting district lines in a way that benefits a particular political party. Here is a court-by-court update on the status of these gerrymandering cases.

In the U.S. Supreme Court


U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford. Early news reports of the argument suggest the expected: the four liberal justices see the injustice of a gerrymander that denies people of the “wrong” party a meaningful right to vote. The four conservative justices may be willing to stay with the existing system, under which courts do not interfere with redistricting on the grounds that it is a “political” matter. Justice Kennedy, who is potentially the key swing vote, appeared to take the arguments by the plaintiffs seriously. Judgment in the case will take a while, likely emerging sometime during the present term, which lasts until the end of June 2018.   –Ken Myers

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin case, another partisan gerrymandering case was filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia by five Pennsylvania citizens. Taking a different approach from the Wisconsin case, the Pennsylvania plaintiffs in Agre v. Wolf argue that the the partisan nature of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim that even the attempt or intent to gerrymander is unconstitutional under this clause and that the court should require Pennsylvania to come up with a process of redistricting that has effective guarantees against partisan overreach.

As Raymond Solomon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained:

We’re not just looking for a new map, but a new process. California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have shown that there can be neutral and fair processes that do not rig the outcomes in advance. We feel the U.S. House is the People’s House, and deciding who goes to the People’s House belongs to the people and not the politicians.


In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

At the state level, a hearing was held before Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a partisan gerrymandering case brought by petitioners the League of Women Voters and individual voters from across the commonwealth. At issue in the hearing was whether this case should be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling in the Wisconsin case, as claimed by lawyers for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and its leaders.

The petitioners argue that a delay is not warranted because their case is based on the state constitution, not the federal one, and therefore, would not be governed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They also emphasize that time is critical to prevent yet another election where the voices of Democratic voters are effectively silenced because their voting districts were drawn to secure Republican victories.

Judge Pellegrini said that even if he allows this case to proceed without waiting for the Supreme court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the judicial process will not be completed before the 2018 midterm elections. He did mention the option of a King’s Bench petition, which can potentially fast-track a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

When can we expect Judge Pellegrini to rule on whether he will delay the case or permit it to proceed in Commonwealth Court? David Gersch, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, believes the judge will issue his order within a few weeks.


A Hearing on Gerry­man­dering in Pa. Commonwealth Court

Map of the U.S. congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

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. [Read more…]

Fighting to Make Our Votes Count

Carol Kuniholm addressing the press at the Pennsylvania Capitol, with supporters of redistricting reform behind her.

Now that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has returned from summer recess, advocacy groups, like Fair Districts PA and March on Harrisburg, are intensifying their fight for redistricting reform. Explaining the importance of their mission, Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, said at a recent press conference in Harrisburg:

For the first time in generations, many of our fellow citizens are questioning the underlying premises of democracy itself. … We feel our votes no longer count and our voices are no longer heard. When we look for causes, we see our gerrymandered districts and our lack of choice at the polls.

[Read more…]

Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as they face the epic devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.The storm that unleashed approximately 27 trillion gallons — or a record 51 inches — of rain on Texas and Louisiana left 50 people dead (a figure that is expected to increase), thousands of residents displaced and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed.


Rescue by Texas Army National Guardsmen. Photo: Lt. Zachary West.

While hatred and evil were on display a mere few weeks ago in Charlottesville, the best of humanity has shown itself during the response to Harvey. From the brothers who drove from Dallas to participate in multiple dangerous rescue efforts to the human chains spontaneously created for saving others to the local Pizza Hut that delivered pizzas by boat to people in need of food, selfless acts of courage have abounded during the tragedy in Texas.

For those still seeking a way to help the victims of Harvey, we have compiled the following list of Jewish organizations engaged in Harvey relief efforts: [Read more…]

Jerusalem Official Discovers Sudden Disappearance of White House Watchdog


Art Buchwald’s 1973 column about excuses for President Richard Nixon. Photo courtesy: Los Angeles Times.

JERUSALEM (PJV) – A  senior government statistician in Jerusalem discovered last week that his official counterpart in Washington has apparently disappeared. The statistician, who must remain unnamed, informed the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that US President Donald Trump has apparently abandoned the US Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) guidelines, which both generate the president’s budget as well as overseeing and regulating how it is used.

Instead, the official finally saw, after a futile search throughout the US government’s considerable number of websites, a new official website appear. It announced that the administration is “updating” the regulations.

The question occurs as to why the OMB guidelines are in sudden need of updating a role it has carried out since the Nixon administration in 1970. The largest White House branch oversees and coordinates the administration’s procurement, financial management, information, and regulatory policies.

The OMB annually reviews federal agency budget requests in preparation for deciding what resource requests would be sent to Congress as part of the president’s budget. It therefore functions as the mechanism by which a president implements his policies – from the Department of Defense to NASA. Its director reports directly to the president, vice president and White House chief of staff.

These regulations also feature as an international role model on the website of the United Nations, so they will apparently be available for comparison with the Trump administration’s adulterated version that is currently under reconstruction.

The Israeli statistician had become alarmed during his search for the original site, when he suddenly found he could no longer reach his Washington counterpart. “I would search and search until I realized that the problem was more serious than an incorrect email address,” said the source.

He suggested that the “updating” apparently indicates that Trump himself or someone high in the administration wants to remove any government supervision of the White House budget. The Israeli equivalent is the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The immediate seriousness of this discovery,” the source pointed out, “is that the quality of information reaching the US public from its government is largely determined by how closely it adheres to standards of good government and reflects reality. When you remove these standards, the government is free to distort reality.”

He said further that this new phenomenon appears to be linked to another recent bureaucratic disappearance in the US capital involving the Office of the Chief Statistician of the American government. The guidelines referred to are listed on the website of the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology (https://fcsm.sites.usa.gov/policies/). Try reaching any of the links under Government-Wide Standards and Guidelines.

The possible missing link he referred to may be part of an ongoing controversy regarding the appointment of the current US Chief Statistician Nancy Potok. She was appointed a day before Trump was inaugurated (!) and there has been no mention of her since, though she hasn’t officially resigned or is not known to have been purged.

The Trump administration is apparently now casting its darkening shadow over OMB appointments, which are meant to be permanent, non-partisan, qualified staffers who in the past have been relied upon for their accuracy and objectivity. Another indication is that the previous chief statistician had an interactive webpage of her own that served the public’s need for facts, which has since vanished.