Dividing Electoral Votes by District Would Make Bad System Worse

In September 2011, Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) proposed that Pennsylvania’s electoral votes be allocated by congressional district, as opposed to the current winner-take-all basis (wherein all of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes are awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes statewide in Pennsylvania). Under the district plan, the voters would elect one presidential elector for each of a state’s 18 congressional districts and 2 presidential electors on an at-large statewide basis.

The district approach would magnify the shortcomings of the current statewide winner-take-all system.  

The best solution is the National Popular Vote bill. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States.

More after the jump.
The district approach for awarding electoral votes would magnify the shortcomings of the current statewide winner-take-all system.

  • ACCURACY: The district approach would less accurately reflect the national popular vote than the current system and would increase the chance of electing a President who did not win the national popular vote.
  • COMPETITIVENESS: The district approach would reduce the already small percentage of the people of the country who are relevant in presidential elections. Seven-eighths of the people of the country live in non-competitive “spectator” congressional districts, compared to two-thirds who live in non-competitive “spectator” states. Voters in only a few of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts would matter in presidential elections under the district approach.
  • EQUALITY: The district approach would not make every vote equal.

As to accuracy, when Bush lost the national popular vote in 2000, he nonetheless won 55% of the country’s 435 congressional districts. In 2004, Bush’s won 50.7% of the popular vote, but 59% of the districts. If the district approach were implemented selectively in a large state (say, in Pennsylvania, but not Texas), the overall system would be less reflective of the national popular vote than the current system and would increase the likelihood of electing a President who did not win the national popular vote.

As to competitiveness, candidates have no reason to campaign in areas where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Nationally, there are only about 55 congressional districts that are competitive in presidential elections.

Under the district approach, every vote would not be equal. Congressional districts are created with equal population, but not an equal number of voters. There were, for example, three times more votes cast for President in Congressman Mike Thompson’s district in northern California in 2006 than in Jim Costa’s district in the Central Valley or in Loretta Sanchez’s district in Orange County.

As John Samples of the Cato Institute recently pointed out in a panel discussion at the National Conference of State Legislatures, the district approach would extend the effects of gerrymandering of congressional districts to the highest office in the land.

Allocation of electoral votes by congressional district was used by Massachusetts in the nation’s first presidential election in 1789. North Carolina and Virginia did something similar in that they allocated electoral votes by special presidential electors districts in 1789. Over the years, various states have used the district approach. In 1969, Maine adopted this method of allocating electoral votes. Nebraska did so in 1992. In 2008, Barack Obama won one of Nebraska’s electoral votes by carrying the 2nd congressional district (while John McCain won the 1st and 3rd districts and statewide).

Currently, 48 of the 50 states award electoral votes on a “winner-take-all” basis.

The congressional district approach for awarding electoral votes is clearly constitutional. In the 1892 case of McPherson v. Blacker (1892), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s switch from the winner-take-all system to a system in which one electoral vote was awarded to the candidate who received the most votes in each congressional district (and in which the state’s remaining two electoral votes were awarded to the candidate who received the most votes in each of two special districts, each containing half of the state).

The manner of conducting presidential elections is covered in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution saying “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” The constitutional wording “as the Legislature thereof may direct” contains no restrictions. It does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding the state’s electoral votes.

For example, the now-prevailing winner-take-all rule was used by only three states when the Founding Fathers went back to their states to organize the nation’s first presidential election in 1789. It did not become prominent until the pre-Civil-War era – long after the Constitution was written and ratified and long after the Founding Fathers were dead. Maine enacted its congressional-district system in 1969, and Nebraska did so in 1992.

The U.S. Supreme Court has characterized the authority of the states over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as “plenary” and “exclusive.” States may allocate their electoral votes in any manner (provided, of course, that it does not violate some other section of the Constitution). The states have used a variety of methods in the past. Massachusetts has changed methods 11 times, and many other states have changed their methods three or four times. The district system was used in Michigan for the 1892 presidential election, but repealed in time for the 1896 election. This issue is discussed in detail in section 8.3 of the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Election the President by National Popular Vote.

At any given time, there are bills in approximately 40% of the state legislatures to allocate the state’s electoral vote by congressional district.

Such bills occasionally pass one house of a state legislature. For example, such a bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled North Carolina Senate in 2007 (in a state that usually voted Republican in presidential elections) and was passed a year few ago by the Republican-controlled New York Senate (in a state that usually voted Democratic in presidential elections).

In California in 2007, an initiative petition was circulated to divide the state’s 55 electoral votes by congressional district; however, the petition failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the June 2008 ballot.

For more details, see sections 3.3 and 4.2 of the book Every Vote Equal: A State-Based Plan for Election the President by National Popular Vote.

Jewish Dems Alarmed Robertson at Romney Fundraiser


–by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) today expressed concern over the appearance of controversial religious broadcaster Pat Robertson at a fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday. Robertson is known for his offensive and outlandish remarks and the Romney campaign’s decision to host him confirms that Romney is just one of many extremist candidates seeking the GOP nomination. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:

“Mitt Romney — the ultimate political chameleon — has strived to be known as one of the more moderate among this field of Republican presidential candidates. Yet by associating with Pat Robertson he has chosen to pander to extremists who refuse to separate church and state, and worse. If associating oneself with Pat Robertson is the Republican Party’s version of ‘moderate,’ let alone a litmus test for Evangelical support, their field of 2012 candidates stands precious little chance of winning the Jewish vote.”

More after the jump.
Politico’s Jonathan Martin put it best:

If Robertson’s name is in the news now, it’s only to recount his latest incendiary comment. Which is why it’s puzzling that Romney — an uber-cautious frontrunner — would appear with the former Christian Coalition chief.

The paper trail of Robertson’s is extensive and, along with his advancing age, is the reason why he’s become marginalized. He blamed Hurricane Katrina on America’s abortion policy, explained the Haiti earthquake by claiming the country had made a ‘pact with the devil,’ the list goes on.

Robertson has written and declared that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. He uses his extreme belief to regularly challenge the First Amendment.

As Newsweek’s Michelle Goldberg wrote, “Republican politics have never been so fully Christianized…. Jews know they can never be full citizens of a Christian nation.”

Romney’s acceptance of Robertson challenges his own efforts to appear as a moderate. While Romney has avoided social issues in the past, his affiliation with Robertson shows that he is willing to bend to the most extreme voices to gain political power. The majority of American Jews are overwhelmingly offended by so many of Robertson’s statements, and this episode helps to illustrate Mitt Romney’s true colors to the Jewish community. It is once again obvious that even the supposedly moderate wing of the Republican Party is far too extreme for the vast majority of American Jews.

Jewish Gay Pride Strong at Philadelphia Parade

Dignity characterized Philadelphia's Gay Pride Parade yesterday. Each group marching past the review stands at Independence Mall stood tall and in the thousands, reflecting a growing and strong array of social service, religious and artistic, family and corporate support for equality across the full range of gender. 

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice was on the scene with a substantial booth at the six hour Penn's Landing party into which the parade participants and observers poured. Why? Rabbi Janet Marder put the matter most succinctly to my mind in the October 1985 issues of the Reconstructionist Magazine: "Reverence for tradition is no virtue when it promotes injustice and human suffering." All afternoon long, Jews and non-Jews of all ages and gender orientations came over to appreciate and explore our Jewish presence. We could see representatives of Beth Ahavah, the Delaware Valley's only gay and lesbian synagogue, as busy as we, across the courtyard. 

The progress in GBLTQ acceptance in Jewish life is substantial, albeit incomplete and insufficient. Since the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College led the way with unconditional ordination of gay and lesbian students in 1984, all the movements, save for for Orthodoxy have found their way to inclusive rites and ordinations. A few summers back National Havurah Institute offered programming to raise awareness of the leadership, challenges and needs of transgender Jews. In Jewish Renewal inclusion has long been manifest and encoded within its ethical platform.
 
"I'm so glad you're here," was what we heard over and over at the parade yesterday. We're offering a free raffle through the end of June with one of the prizes a free commitment ceremony with trimming donated from the flowers, cake, clothes and more.
  
More after the jump.

Yes, Judaism is big on family and commitment, so it was a joy to hear many share that they'd already undertake a Jewish commitment ceremony with their local Philadelphia rabbi. And we often heard comments such as these: "Reb Goldie, did you know that our rabbi is out and she's amazing! and "Ours isn't a gay synagogue, our rabbi is gay. We're an everyone synagogue and we love our rabbi." 
 
Echoing in every moment, for me, was the memory of being a married student attending the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote back in the 1980s when gay and lesbian ordination was coming up for a vote in the moment. Accustomed to heterosexual privilege, my heart broke that a vote on the humanity and Jewish authenticity of those around me. As a student body we rallied together, making sure airfares were available to get all possible voters down to the decision-making body that would be meeting in Florida. How could a Jewish human's right to ordination could possibly be an issue if they were succeeding in their training and studies? Faculty and movement leaders held educational programs to help members prepare for the vote. Gay and lesbian ordination passed by an overwhelming majority.
 
The Reconstructionist movement report mentioned early in this report states: "Traditional Judaism spoke of the widow, the orphan, the deaf, and the blind as those most in need of protection. Justice for the vulnerable is a test of the ultimate values of a community or society. Jewish sources, prayers and rituals continually remind us that we were once vulnerable as a people, enslaved in Egypt. We speak of having been strangers in the land of Egypt .At various later points in Jewish history, we have been vilified and oppressed for no reason other than our identity as Jews. As a consequence, a major theme of Jewish tradition is the obligation to be sensitive to the needs of … those that society views as outcast. The Jewish people has a special concern about just and fair treatment …"
 
One of the many parade delegations is called PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. This year PFLAG was one of the smallest groups marching, which I find a cause for concern. Showing up and standing up for our neighbors' humanity, and in every extended family, the rights of those we love, is part of what it means to live a mitzvah-centered life. Next year, if you didn't this year, join us in "coming out" as Jews who do not accept discrimination as an acceptable way of life. 

Photo: Barry Bub.

Win Up To $9,000 in Prizes from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will be giving away a fabulous commitment ceremony/wedding package and other prizes this month! For a chance to win, simply join our free mailing list or update your registration. You can register online at http://www.pjvoice.com/subscribe.htm or sign up in person at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s table at the Philadelphia Pride Parade this Sunday, June 12 from noon to 6pm on Penn’s Landing.

The grand prize is transferable, so even if you are not personally planning on tying the knot, this prize is a terrific present to celebrate the union of your friends.

Prizes:

  • Grand Prize: Commitment Ceremony Package ($9,000+ value) including:
    • Commitment Ritual conducted by Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism editor Rabbi Goldie Milgram.
    • Preparation Sessions Six free hour-long planning sessions with Rabbi Milgram for the couple (and wedding planners, musicians, garment, food and invitation designers, etc. if desired), in person or phone/Skype/webcam depending on availability. Rabbi Milgram will facilitate creation of custom-designed ritual, vows and contract of spiritual commitment to complement your legal documents. These sessions will include spiritual support for your relationship which can be an open non-religion-specific spirituality or Jewish.
    • Wedding Cake designed and donated by Ciao Bella Cakes.
    • $1,000 in Flowers provided by Vandergrift Floral.
    • Dress or Accessories. $150 gift certificate to Paris Chic Bridal Boutique.
    • Honeymoon. One night stay at The Lippincott House Bed & Breakfast.
    • Cocktails for rehearsal party (up to 10 people) by Foodwerx.
    • Hair, Make-up and/or Hot Lather Shave (on-site) courtesy of Jacen Bowman.
    • Pillows engineered for your body weight and size by Pittman Pillows.
    • Photography with images on DVD by Kim Volcy Photography.
    • Five Hours of Party Service to staff your party courtesy of Beth’s Party Service.
    • Entertainment Services for your wedding with DJ and Karoke for five hours from Two Sisters Entertainment.
    • And More…. Additional details will be announced on the Philadelphia Jewish Voice as they become available.
  • Second Prize: Free Yoga lesson from Philadelphia Jewish Voice Art & Culture editor Lisa Grunberger.
  • Third Prize: Two free tickets to Theatre Ariel’s performance of ten 10-minute never-before-produced plays, 7pm this Sunday evening, June 12 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre. This prize will be awarded at the Pride Parade. Please indicate your cell phone number so we can notify you if you win.
  • Consolation Prizes: All subscribers who enter their complete address will be mailing an I read the Philadelphia Jewish Voice” bumper sticker, so that you can show your support of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Details follow the jump.


Rules:

  • Deadline: June 30, 2011
  • Eligibility: Limit one entry per person. Multiple entries will disqualify you. No purchase required. Staff and board members of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and the Deal Monitor and their immediate families are not eligible.
  • Commitment Ceremony:
    • The couple must obtain their own attorney and execute any relevant legal documents to secure the flow of your estate and health-care rights under the jurisdiction where they reside. If their marriage is legal where this ritual will take place, then they will need to register accordingly prior to this ritual.
    • If the couple is Jewish, then Rabbi Goldie Milgram must approve or provide the Hebrew language that will appear in your ketubah (marriage contract). The couple must pay and secure their own artist to illustrate their ketubah.
    • The couple is responsible for the cost of Rabbi Milgram’s lodging, meals and transport for the weekend of your ritual from wherever she happens to be in the world at that time to wherever her next assignment happens to be.
    • Rabbi Milgram does not co-officiate with other clergy.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Creating beautiful, meaningful, spiritually authentic rites of passage, including Commitment Ceremonies has long been an important part of Rabbi Goldie Milgram’s life as a clergy person and we are fortunate to be able to share her experience with you.
Secularly, Dr. Goldie Milgram has long been a gender-rights activist. She also travels internationally as a teacher of spiritual health and non-profit leadership. She received the American Cancer Society Most Distinguished Couple Award for her work in publication education during a previous marriage where she anchored and invented the first public health talk television for NBC TV 40. She has offered programs under the auspices of the United Nations, Esalen, Rancho La Puerta, the New York Open Center, 92Y, universities and communities world-wide.  Wearing her Jewish hat, “Reb Goldie” as her students affectionately call her, holds a doctorate from New York Theological Seminary and is a twice ordained rabbi – a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and she also holds the private smichah (ordination) of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal. Dr. Milgram directs, ReclaimingJudaism.org and is author of numerous works including the first fully gender-inclusive work on Jewish ritual: Living Jewish Life Cycle: How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage at Every Stage of Life (Jewish Lights Publishing).
Rabbi Goldie Milgram can be contacted at [email protected]

Good luck.

Sign Up for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and win up to $9,000 in prizes!

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will be giving away a fabulous commitment ceremony/wedding package and other prizes this month. For a chance to win, simply join our free mailing list or update your registration. You can register online at http://www.pjvoice.com/subscri… or sign up in person at the Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s table at the Philadelphia Pride Parade this Sunday, June 12 from 1:30 to 6:00 pm on Penn’s Landing.

The grand prize is transferable, so even if you are not personally planning on tying the knot, this prize is a terrific present to celebrate the union of your friends.

Prizes:
Grand Prize: Commitment Ceremony Package ($9,000+ value) including:
Commitment ritual conducted by Philadelphia Jewish Voice Living Judaism editor Rabbi Goldie Milgram. Creating beautiful, meaningful, spiritually authentic rites of passage, including Commitment Ceremonies has long been an important part of Rabbi Goldie Milgram’s life as a clergy person and we are fortunate to be able to share her experience with you.

More after the jump.
Preparation sessions Six free hour-long planning sessions with Rabbi Milgram, in person or phone/Skype/webcam depending on availability.Together with the commitment couple, Rabbi Milgram will facilitate creation of a custom-designed ritual, vows and contract of spiritual commitment to complement your legal documents. These sessions will include spiritual support for your relationship which can be an open non-religion-specific spirituality or Jewish. Rabbi Milgram views ritual as a powerful and precious spiritual art form and welcome conference call involvement of wedding planners, musicians, garment, food and invitation designers, etc.
Wedding Cake designed and donated by Ciao Bella Cakes.
$1,000 in Flowers provided by Vandergrift Floral.
Dress or Accessories $150 gift certificate to Paris Chic Bridal Boutique.
Honeymoon One night stay at The Lippincott House Bed & Breakfast.
Cocktails for rehearsal party (up to 10 people) by Foodwerx.
Hair, Make-up and/or Hot Lather Shave (on-site) courtesy of Jacen Bowman.
Pillows engineered for your body weight and size by Pittman Pillows.
Photography with images on DVD by Kim Volcy Photography.
And More…. Additional details will be announced on the Philadelphia Jewish Voice as they become available.
Second Prize: Free Yoga lesson from Philadelphia Jewish Voice Art & Culture editor Lisa Grunberger.
Consolation Prizes: All subscribers who enter their complete address will be mailing an “I read the Philadelphia Jewish Voice” bumper sticker, so that you can show your support of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Rules:
Deadline: June 30, 2011
Eligibility: Limit one entry per person. Multiple entries will disqualify you. No purchase required. Staff and board members of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and the Deal Monitor and their immediate families are not eligible.
Commitment Ceremony:
The couple must obtain their own attorney and execute any relevant legal documents to secure the flow of your estate and health-care rights under the jurisdiction where they reside. If their marriage is legal where this ritual will take place, then they will need to register accordingly prior to this ritual.
If the couple is Jewish, then Rabbi Goldie Milgram must approve or provide the Hebrew language that will appear in your ketubah (marriage contract). The couple must pay and secure their own artist to illustrate their ketubah.
The couple is responsible for the cost of Rabbi Milgram’s lodging, meals and transport for the weekend of your ritual from wherever she happens to be in the world at that time to wherever her next assignment happens to be.
Rabbi Milgram does not co-officiate with other clergy.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Secularly, Dr. Goldie Milgram has long been a gender-rights activist. She also travels internationally as a teacher of spiritual health and non-profit leadership. She received the American Cancer Society Most Distinguished Couple Award for her work in publication education during a previous marriage where she anchored and invented the first public health talk television for NBC TV 40. She has offered programs under the auspices of the United Nations, Esalen, Rancho La Puerta, the New York Open Center, 92Y, universities and communities world-wide.  Wearing her Jewish hat, “Reb Goldie” as her students affectionately call her, holds a doctorate from New York Theological Seminary and is a twice ordained rabbi – a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and she also holds the private smichah (ordination) of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal. Dr. Milgram directs, ReclaimingJudaism.org and is author of numerous works including the first fully gender-inclusive work on Jewish ritual: Living Jewish Life Cycle: How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage at Every Stage of Life (Jewish Lights Publishing).
Rabbi Goldie Milgram can be contacted at [email protected]

Good luck!

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]e.com.

Appendices

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.

New Arts and Culture Editor!

Lisa GrunbergerI am honored to join the Jewish Voice as the new Arts and Culture Editor.  I welcome you to send me any news you might have regarding the vibrant arts and culture scene here in Philadelphia.  If you have books to review, theatre productions, music, museum exhibits please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

I moved to Philadelphia from Manhattan four years ago to work at Temple University where I am an Assistant Professor in English. I teach creative writing in poetry and literature.   I grew up in Long Island and always dreamed of moving to New York City, but to quote short story writer, Anne Beattie, “I became disenchanted with New York when I realized that I felt as if I had accomplished something when I picked up the laundry, and got the Times and a quart of milk.”   In Philadelphia, it’s just easier to get things done — a walkable, beautiful city brimming with culture and art.  

From the Israeli film festival to the new Jewish Museum, from the World Cafe to the Kimmel Center, I feel fortunate to call Philadelphia my home.  

Lisa Grunberger is the author of an illustrated humor book, Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures of Love, Loss and the Lotus Position (Newmarket Press, 2009) which she has adapted into a musical (stay tuned!).  She teaches yoga and writing classes in Philadelphia.  

We Need Your Help To Slay The Gerrymander

— by Lora Lavin, Representative Government Specialist, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice need your help to launch to redistricting contest. The contest would set a fair baseline by which politician-drawn maps could be measured.

  • Left unchecked: politicians choose their voters instead of letting voters select their representatives.
  • Gerrymandering is the equivalent of rigging elections to get a predetermined outcome.
  • We believe some good old-fashioned competition can keep politicians honest.

The biggest political power-play of the decade is about to get underway in Pennsylvania.   It is, perhaps, the most  self-serving and least transparent process of state and local government.  It’s called redistricting.  The outcome will determine the shape of representative democracy in Pennsylvania for the next decade.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing congressional, legislative, and local government representatives’ district boundaries so that each district has approximately the same number of people.  The goal is to ensure communities have an equal voice in Congress, state legislatures and city and township councils.  

But the politicians don’t see it that way.  In Pennsylvania and most other states, district lines are drawn by the very lawmakers whose political careers will be affected by the changes.  For them, redistricting is an opportunity to consolidate political power and ensure their reelection prospects.  For example, Philadelphia’s 172nd House District was transformed during the previous redistricting in order to guarantee the reelection of a powerful legislator.  It was only after a political scandal that he was eventually defeated last year.

Modern technology makes this kind of extreme gerrymandering possible.  Using expensive and sophisticated software, politicians can select their voters block by block and even house by house.  The tools they use are “proprietary” meaning access is limited to those with the ability to pay lots of money.  But now, a Philadelphia based software firm, Azavea, in partnership with a political science professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has developed DistrictBuilder. This relatively inexpensive open-source redistricting tool can be used by ordinary citizens to draw district maps and bring elections back into the hands of the people.  

To see how Profs. Michael McDonald (George Mason Univ., Brooking Inst.) and Micah Altman (Harvard, Brookings Inst.) used DistrictBuilder to run Virginia’s redistricting contest, visit the Public Mapping Project website demopublicmapping.org.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in partnership with JSPAN, Common Cause/PA and the PA League of Women Voters want to use DistrictBuilder to sponsor a redistricting competition and demonstrate that a non-partisan, open redistricting process based on objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional district maps in Pennsylvania.  The competition would be open to individuals.  The winners would be selected through an objective scoring system based on anti-gerrymandering criteria of compactness, competitiveness, representativeness, equality and integrity.

The three sponsoring organizations can contribute $6,000 toward prizes and incidental competition costs.  But to use the software we need to raise $35,000 before May 1.  Can you help?  To make a tax-deductible contribution click the button or contact [email protected] (Contributions directed to this project will be refunded if we do not meet our fundraising goal.)

For more information or become a co-sponsoring organizations, please contact Dan Loeb [email protected]

More after the jump.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is organized pursuant to Pennsylvania’s non-profit corporation law. We have tax exempt status under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). For more information visit GuideStar.

Contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. The official registrations and financial information of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.

Help Wanted

Do you know a college student, blogger or other talented web designer interested in earning money while contributing to the discussion of issues of interest to our community? The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is taking applications for an online assistant editor.

Applicants should send a letter of motivation and resume to [email protected]. We would also like them to submit a sample piece of writing directly to the website by registering at blog.pjvoice.com and clicking on “Submit Article.”

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is an online non-profit volunteer based community newspaper serving the Philadelphia Jewish Community since 2005. We are dedicated to addressing the important social, political and cultural issues facing our community in a spirit of honesty, integrity and diversity.