The Pennsylvania Supreme Court got it right when it ruled the state’s congressional district map unconstitutional; its new map limits the negative impacts of politically gerrymandering. While the new map is a step in the right direction, it is not enough to ensure fair districts in the long term. We must remove politics from the map-drawing to ensure that voters choose their representatives and not the other way around.
In order to ensure Pennsylvania has fair districts, I’ve co-sponsored Senate Bill 22, which would amend the state constitution to create an independent citizens commission in charge of both legislative and congressional redistricting. The bill ensures that a commission comprised of nonpoliticians will work in an open and transparent manner to draw the new maps. The bill also allows the leadership of both parties to strike a certain number of candidates from the pool, ensuring the independence of the commission. In addition, the bill prevents the use of voters’ political affiliations and past election results in the development of the new maps.
I urge my Senate Republican and Democratic colleagues to join me as co-sponsors of S.B. 22, and I call on State Government Committee Chair Sen. Mike Folmer to allow a hearing on the bill.
The roots of the deep political divisions in our state and nation lie in part to the rise of extreme partisan gerrymandering. When the political party in power — whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans — determines the district maps, it often draws them to its advantage. This results in more extremely partisan districts, which make constructive compromise harder to achieve.
Safe districts drawn for either party increase political polarization. Legislators worry too much about primary challengers, forcing them to focus on their political base, which leaves many voters disenfranchised. Safe districts also pull legislators further from constructive compromise and problem-solving. States that have implemented independent redistricting commissions, such as Arizona and California, have seen legislators reach across the aisle and find workable solutions that benefit all residents — not just those of the party in power.
My constituents, as well as residents from all over Pennsylvania, are demanding legislative and congressional district reform. Drawing district maps should not be used to cement the power of one party and disenfranchise voters of the other. Our policies, our economy, and our people all lose from gerrymandering. S.B. 22 provides an alternative approach to politics as usual. For more information, please visit the website of Fair Districts PA, the nonpartisan citizen-led group that is spearheading the grassroots advocacy effort for this essential reform.
Anthony Williams is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania Senate, representing the Eighth District since 1998.