Democracy Works Summit in Philadelphia

A two-day conference of good government advocates will be convened in Philadelphia on May 21 and 22, with attendance open to the public. Hosted by Common Cause Pennsylvania, the summit will present speakers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors of the mid-Atlantic region, who will discuss issues critical to our democracy, such as the census, redistricting and voting modernization. [Read more…]

Common Cause: No Issue of Voter Fraud

“The facts are clear; the research has been done. Election officials, leaders of the president’s own party and other leading election experts confirm that there is no evidence of election tampering, as President Trump alone claims. There simply is no alternate fact,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan, grassroots watchdog organization, working to assure government accountability and the right of all Americans to make their voices heard in the political process. [Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

Bipartisan Group Tackles Redistricting Reform in Harrisburg

— Charles M. Tocci

Calling it an “imperative” first step to any government reform initiative, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Pennsylvania lawmakers today announced the formation of a legislative workgroup aimed at hammering out redistricting reform legislation.

“Modern day government has deteriorated into a politically tainted, polarized and gridlocked force that is more about self-preservation than representative government,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton). “This bipartisan effort is not about whether we need to change redistricting, but how we should change it.”

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The number of interactions between cross-party pairs has decreased drastically from 1949 to 2011. (Image: Clio Andris)

The lawmakers claim that Pennsylvania’s many oddly shaped, gerrymandered districts have created politically impenetrable fiefdoms that pressure lawmakers to toe the party line at the expense of bipartisanship and compromise. A recent Penn State study concluded that members of Congress are now nearly seven times less likely to cross-vote on issues than they were a few decades ago. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), just 7 of the 444 members accounted for 98.3% of all cross-votes.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) noted, “We’ve heard our constituents’ ask for a more accountable government and a more open and transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania. I hope the formation of this bipartisan redistricting reform group shows that we are listening to those concerns, and we’re ready and willing to work together to overcome current challenges. This is a significant first step toward a bipartisan solution that works for all of Pennsylvania.

Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne) said, “There are some good proposals on the table. This workgroup’s job is to find common ground, draw the best from various ideas, and emerge with a strong bipartisan solution that we can all rally around.”

Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair) added, “I believe that the difficulties and delays that plagued Pennsylvania’s last attempt to put together a timely map of legislative districts emphasizes the need to explore new methods of reapportionment in the Commonwealth. For that reason, I am happy to participate in the efforts of this workgroup.”

The lawmakers said it is important that the redistricting reform process take shape this legislative session to have a new system in place when district maps are redrawn again for the 2020 census. To change the redistricting process, the state legislature must pass legislation changing the state’s constitution in two consecutive sessions. Voters must then approve the reform proposal via referendum.

“Our democratic system requires that voters choose their legislators, but our politically motivated redistricting process allows legislators to choose voters instead,” said state Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). “That must change.”

Lawmakers claim that the last Legislative Reapportionment Commission largely ignored sound redistricting tenants such as contiguity, compactness and community of interest. New legislative maps, which were supposed to be in place for the 2012 elections, were overturned by the state Supreme Court as being “contrary to law.” The decision sent the commission’s lawmakers, lawyers and staffers back to the drawing board and kept old legislative boundaries in place for the 2012 election.

Members of the group pointed out that the method we use for congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania isn’t any better. The 11th Congressional district runs from Adams County to the northern tier, while the 15th Congressional district goes from Easton to Harrisburg, and the 12th Congressional District traverses from Cambria County to the Ohio line.

The legislators said that drawing Congressional districts is more politically charged than drawing the state House and Senate districts because Congressional districts are presented in bill form and goes through the legislative process. A bipartisan reapportionment commission comprised of caucus leaders meets and deliberates on state House and Senate districts before presenting its state legislative redistricting proposal.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

Non-partisan map would give Pennsylvania less biased representation in Congress.

(Editor: Stephen Wolf has computed non-partisan maps “that give voters a real choice and allow the majority to have its voice heard.” Here are his maps for Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin and other states.
Even more representative maps can be drawn by actively seeking proportional representation and competitive districts instead of ignoring partisanship as Stephen Wolf does.)

Other lawmakers at the news conference included Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna), along with Representatives Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Dave Parker (R-Monroe) and Steve Also on hand to express their organization’s support for redistricting reform were: Barry Kauffman, Common Cause; Susan Carty, League of Women Voters and Desiree Hung, AARP.

The Breathtakingly Brazen PA Congressional Redistricting Plan

Republicans notched a major redistricting win on Tuesday with the unveiling yesterday of a Pennsylvania congressional map that deals a sharp blow to Democrats’ prospects in the state. The plan is not final — it must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and then signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Republicans control all levers of redistricting in the state, leaving Democrats with little power to contest the map.

“This congressional redistricting plan is breathtakingly brazen in its defiance of the interests of Pennsylvania’s voters” said Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman, upon the Senate State Government Committee’s vote to approve the Congressional redistricting plan (SB-1249) that will be in place for the coming decade.  Calling the plan the “ultimate in political cynicism” the bill abandons any pretense of maintaining congressional districts as communities of interest.

The plan unveiled today features a district (CD 7) that meanders bizarrely through five southeastern counties  resembling the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.  Another (CD 15) stretches from the Delaware River (Bethlehem and Allentown areas) to the Susquehanna River (just south of Harrisburg) following close to the I-78 and I-81 corridors; while another reaches from the Delaware even deeper into the Allegheny mountains (CD 10).  One western Pennsylvania district, resembling an emaciated hammerhead shark, reaches from the Ohio border to Johnstown.

Erie County has been split in half. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have been separated from the rest of Northeastern PA. Easton has been separated from the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

Meanwhile, Southeastern Pennsylvania’s fractal lines wind and intertwine in such a way that it is difficult to tell who lives where, and the 7th Congressional District is barely contiguous. On the other side of the state Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire have been drawn into a district together and will have to compete in the Democratic primary.  

Common Cause/PA noted that the legislature has had the census data, on which the redistricting plan is based, since the beginning of April, but did not release its proposed plan until December 14th.  The legislature could easily have developed the new congressional district plan by the end July, put it out for 60 days of public comments and public hearings, and still passed it before the end of October.  Instead, with the date for candidates to circulate nominating petitions looming just six weeks away, the bill will move forward on the legislative fast track, with no public hearing on the plan, and no meaningful opportunity for interested citizens and community leaders to review the plan and attempt to improve it during its one week of legislative life.

Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA), left, and Mark Critz (D-PA) must face each other in a primary.

While states likes Iowa, California and Arizona have moved forward to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians whose principal goals are to create a gerrymandered advantage for their parties and to protect incumbent lawmakers from the voters, Pennsylvania’s system remains the ultimate incumbency protection program.  Several senators even noted that Pennsylvania’s system manifests an abuse of power regardless of which party is in charge.  “If Pennsylvanians ever hope to take back control of their government” said Kauffman, “we must reform our system for drawing legislative and congressional district boundaries.  This plan is a clear-cut case of politicians picking their voters in order to prevent voters from having a meaningful opportunity to pick their elected officials.”

The Democratic party has created a website where citizens can vote on which Congressional District is the most gerrymandered and a Rorschach test where you can propose what each district most resembles. (Examples include “Zombie aardvark in an airplane seat” [District 3], “A rabbit pulling the tail of a giraffe” [District 7]” and “A seahorse riding a platypus” [District 17].)

Close-ups on Southwestern Pennsylvania and Southeastern Pennsylvania

House Democratic Caucus Whip Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) intends to offer a fair Congressional map as an amendment to the Republican maps unveiled Tuesday (SB 1249).

Details follow the jump.
 State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, has introduced revised congressional maps that more closely resemble the “one-man, one-vote” principle afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

“Voting is the only way citizens can hold their government accountable. Based on what we’ve seen so far in this process, redistricting has become a game, which cripples competitive elections and ensures incumbency protection.

This is politics at its worst and a backwards movement in transparency and reform. We should make certain that every person’s vote counts, putting the interests of all the citizens first, not just the politicians. My proposal will not suppress the voices of 12.7 million Pennsylvania residents, but allow their voices to be heard through their vote.

Hanna’s legislation (H.B. 2078) crafts congressional districts for Pennsylvania that more closely align with suggestions offered by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

My proposal creates a fair redistricting map, putting aside partisan interests and protecting the interests of the voters. This plan will minimize district splits in counties and municipalities and ensure equality of representation across 18 congressional districts. It will emphasize the compactness of districts while ensuring traditional communities of interest remain together in the same district.

Redistricting map proposed by Rep. Mike Hanna:

Phil. Jewish Voice Testifies at Joint House-Senate Redistricting Hearing

Testimony on Congressional Redistricting Given at Joint Hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Committee and State House Committee on State Government

Honorable Chairmen and members of the committees, thank you for holding these hearings and for inviting me to speak to you today. Holding hearings like this is an important first step in including the public in this crucial part of our democratic process.

Public oversight is a crucial part of the checks and balances necessary to ensure that redistricting process is not abused to advantage any political party, protect incumbents, or punish political rivals. Democracy requires competitive elections and representative government.

In a democracy, voters choose their representative to protect the common interest. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to a system of gerrymandering which turns democracy upside-down so that it is politicians who choose their voters strategically in order to advance their personal interests rather than the other way around.Packing the voters into a small number of districts in order to isolate them. (Figure 3) Cracking voters across multiple districts in order to dilute them. (Figure 4) And counting convicts where they are imprisoned rather than where they usually live. In a state like Pennsylvania where the process is totally controlled by a single political party, there may be a temptation to engage in partisan gerrymandering unless the media and the public are vigilant in their oversight.

Even when Democratic and Republican politicians share power, there is a possibility of mutually agreeable “sweetheart” gerrymandering as Democrats and Republicans engage in unseemly exchanges of constituents with the Democrat legislator offering up his Republican voters in exchange for his Republican colleague’s Democratic voters. (Figure 2)

In order to encourage public participation in the redistricting process, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and its partners – the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Common Cause Pennsylvania – hope to run a Redistricting Content similar to those run in Virginia and Ohio and being run in Michigan, Arizona and Massachusetts.

The idea is to make Azavea’s DistrictBuilder, Redistricting Software, and the underlying geographic, demographic and electoral data available freely on the Internet.  We now have the technology to allow everyone to have a say in the redistricting process.

The Pennsylvania Redistricting Contest will be judged by impartial numerical criteria measuring:
equality, continuity, integrity, competitiveness, proportionality and compactness.

  1. Equality. The principal of one-man, one-vote is enshrined in the Voting Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Constitution. We will not allow districts to deviate from their ideal population range and we will reward plans which promote higher standards of equality. Furthermore, we will require that majority-minority districts be maintained as required by the Voting Rights Act.
  2. Contiguity. Each district must be contiguous and not contain any parts which are connected to the other parts at a single point.
  3. Integrity. The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits legislative districts which divide any “county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward…unless absolutely necessary.” By minimizing splits, voters understand easily who their representative is, and township and county officials do not have to interface with as many legislators. Our contest will penalize redistricting plans which unnecessarily divide these communities of interest.
  4. Competitiveness. Gerrymandering undermines the democratic process by creating uncompetitive districts. When 90% of an incumbent’s constituents belong to his political party, the incumbent is guaranteed reelection and no longer has any incentive to be responsive to the needs of his constituents. Non-competitive districts make everyone’s vote irrelevant and reduce accountability. Our contest will penalize plans which create these sorts of lopsided districts.
  5. Proportionality. The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to deliver a disproportionate share of the representation of the state into the hands of the political party controlling the redistricting process. In Pennsylvania, there are over 4 registered Democrats for every 3 registered Republicans, yet,Democrats only hold 37% of the Congressional delegation, 40% of the  State Senate, and 45% seats in the State House.

  6. Compactness. Bizarre shaped districts are a tell-tale sign that a map-makers is up to no good extending tentacles out of a district of their supporters to encompass his residence, or excising a community of opponents in order to secure his reelection. Our contest classify districts whose perimeter is disproportionately long compared to its area, and penalize redistricting plans accordingly.

Our hope is that the State Government Committees, Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and independent groups interested in political reform will support this initiative and help us make the DistrictBuilder software available to the general public.

Making tools like these available to the public as Florida and Alaska has value even in the absence of a contest.

However, we look forward to determining the best plan and promulgating it as an unbiased baseline against which the legislature’s plans can be compared.

More after the jump.
Thank you for your time. If you would like more details on our proposal and on the results of the Redistricting Contests held or being held in other states, please email me at [email protected]


1. Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition Rules and Procedures

2. Feedback from Virginia contest (Prof. Michael McDonald, George Mason University)

These winning student competition plans had an effect on the policy discourse. All three of the winning plans following the governor’s criteria were introduced a bills in the state legislature, and all students and faculty were recognized by the legislature and the governor. A winning congressional plan following the governor’s criteria draw by a team of William and Mary law school students became the basis of a plan adopted by the governor’s commission. This congressional plan was notable in that it reconfigured the state’s only voting rights district in such a way that made it substantially more compact, and thus enabled districts throughout the state to significantly improve their compactness. The concept of reconfiguring the voting rights district was implemented in a plan championed by the legislative black caucus,  which further created an African-American influence district in the Hampton Roads area. This was the plan adopted by the Democratically controlled Senate.

   Voting rights issues were also explored in the state legislative plans. Many students attempted to draw a Hispanic majority voting-age population district, but none were successful. A winning University of Virginia team Senate plan created six African-American majority voting-age
population districts, where the current plan only had five. However, these districts were barely above 50%, which was significantly below the percentages that received Department of Justice preclearance under Section 5 the previous decade. The governor’s commission explored if it was possible to increase the African-American voting age populations of these districts, but did not find it was possible to do so greatly. Although it was not part of the student competition, a House of Delegates plan drawn by Dr. McDonald for the commission demonstrated it is possible to draw thirteen African-American majority voting-age population districts, whereas the plans
adopted by the legislature only had twelve. This thirteenth district was discovered in the course of drawing districts that were compact and respected existing political boundaries, in accordance to the governor’s criteria.

   These plans provide evidence that greater public participation enables fresh approaches to drawing redistricting plans that may have otherwise gone undiscovered. Redistricting is an extremely complex problem. In a modestly sized state, there are more solutions than there are quarks in the universe (Altman and McDonald 2010). More eyes on the problem means more
opportunities to see new solutions. These plans illuminated paths to improve racial representation, thereby demonstrating that reformers’ goals may not necessarily be at odds with the voting rights community. We explore trade-offs among the competition criteria further in our analysis of the student competition, commission, and legislative plans.