Redistricting rejection is good news

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Challenges to the state's redistricting map included allegations that it is too politically partisan, and is designed to benefit Republicans. (Photo illustration)

So says a DN editorial:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to explain its surprising ruling that overturns the state legislative redistricting plan created last month that had faced 11 formal challenges.

The ruling is good news. It would be even better if the court's explanation of the ruling addresses the inherent flaws in the redistricting process - flaws which, as voters who witnessed the city's recent councilmanic redistricting process know - are not limited to the state.

The challenges to the state's map included allegations that the map - required every 10 years following the census - is too politically partisan, and is designed to benefit Republicans.

The charge that the map is political is not so much a challenge, but a foregone conclusion, at least based on how the redistricting plan gets done in this state.

Essentially, the majority party holds the upper hand in drawing the legislative district lines. Four of the five members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission are the majority and minority leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, with a fifth person chosen by the majority leaders. The current commission picked a Republican.

Whether or not the court will object to the blatant favoring of Republicans in the new plan, the point is that the process is seriously dysfunctional - and not just because it is partisan, but because it puts redistricting in the control of the people who will benefit most - not the voters.

(To underscore how screwed up the state map is, one of the formal challenges came from Jay Costa, minority-party member of the commission.)

It doesn't have to be this way. More than a dozen states have moved toward a nonpartisan redistricting commission. This year, the city's efforts were enhanced by a public contest, spearheaded by the local software firm Azavea, which gave citizens a technological tool to draw more logical district lines. (The Daily News participated in this effort.)

In its white paper on redistricting, Azavea offers compelling cases that illuminate what is at stake, and why voters should care. In one example, "one potential candidate who had stated his intention to challenge an incumbent Senator found that his house had been redrawn into a different district."

In another case, "community members had organized to oppose a state representative who had sold local farmland to be transformed into a landfill, posing a threat to his re-election chances. In the final version of the redistricting plan, the township where the agitators were concentrated had been transplanted to a neighboring district." 

We doubt that the court's objections will address this process, but voters should. Both and League of Women Voters http://palwv.org) and Common Cause (www.commoncause.org/ pa) could use help working on this.

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