What does Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common with people in two Pennsylvania towns — Bald Eagle in Clinton County and Cheltenham? They all want the state to stop holding elections that were already decided before voters showed up at the polls.
Gerrymandering, where district lines are drawn to favor the party in power, is so prevalent that even the worst incumbents rarely fear losing an election. But that could change. More than 90 towns and counties in Pennsylvania have passed resolutions calling for a fairer redistricting process.
Even prominent Republicans whose party has benefited from gerrymandering are fighting it. That includes Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and Schwarzenegger, a former California governor. They are calling out their colleagues for perpetuating a distorted election process.
An Associated Press analysis of all 435 House races in 2016 said Republicans won 22 extra seats because their party controlled how the congressional districts were drawn. That included seats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.
McCain has joined Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) in an amicus brief filed in a Wisconsin gerrymandering case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in October. Wisconsin lawmakers redrew district lines to favor Republicans. Their plan worked so well the GOP moved from the minority to a super majority in the legislature after the new maps took effect in 2012.
The Supreme Court has never stricken down a redistricting plan simply because it favored one party over the other, so the Wisconsin case is significant. The court’s ruling could have a wide-ranging effect, including on all 18 of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts.
Reformers have filed suit in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, arguing that the state’s map makers jammed Democrats into five congressional districts so there wouldn’t be enough of them to challenge Republicans in the other 13 districts.
Montgomery County was divided among five districts to water down Democrats’ strength. The city of Chester was split in two. Mapmakers zigzagged the Seventh District through five counties to find enough Republicans to keep U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan in office.
Analysts say if Pennsylvania’s districts accurately reflected the politics of its population, Democrats would hold three to five more congressional seats.
FairDistrictsPA has tried for months to persuade Pennsylvania legislators to reduce their role by amending the state Constitution to create a nonpartisan citizens commission to draw legislative district lines.
Unlike previous efforts, this one has unprecedented public support. The group has held meetings around the state and plans to go to Harrisburg this week to ask the Republican-controlled legislature to stop blocking their efforts.
Pennsylvania voters can help by contacting Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chair of the House State Government Committee, and Sen. Mike Folmer, chair of the Senate State Government Committee, and telling them to schedule hearings on the bills that would end gerrymandering.