Editorial: How your leaders elect themselves

Today, the Daily News tackles one of the biggest issues blocking change in Harrisburg: redistricting. Currently, our elected officials can manipulate the process to protect themselves. Best example? State Rep. John Perzel.

In 2000, Perzel experienced something rare for an incumbent politician: he almost lost. Two years later, he won by more than 14,000 votes.

His trick was not winning over the voters who had supported his opponent, but something much simpler: He redrew his legislative district to include more registered Republicans.

As you can see from the graphic above, Perzel redrew his district into a bizarre shape to ensure electoral victory. And he was successful. Unfortunately, he's not the only one.

Here is how redistricting works: Every 10 years, Pennsylvania redraws congressional and legislative districts based on the census population count. A five-member Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is comprised of the leaders of the four caucuses and a mutually agreed upon fifth member, runs the process.

That cozy group works together to draw districts to their political advantage. They study demographic data, and assign voters with similar political beliefs to the same district. That leads to districts with crazy borders and no logical geography. The leaders also use other information - like income, race, and gender - to predict voting behavior. The result: very few districts with an equal mix of Democrats and Republicans.

So, what is the solution? The editorial has some suggestions.

In a perfect world, redistricting would be handled by a non-partisan commission or office; that's how it's done in other states. Such a radical move would take an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution, and couldn't realistically happen before 2011. However, the Legislature could restrict how the Legislative Reapportionment Commission operates. For example, the General Assembly could forbid the commission to use political data to draw districts. Or, lawmakers could require legislative leaders to appoint neutral commissioners as their designees.

What do you think? How important is redistricting to changing Pennsylvania's broken political culture?

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