Give voters the advantage in drawing Pa.'s House districts | Editorial

Pennsylvania's congressional districts are often cited as some of the most gerrymandered in the country.

It’s widely known that Pennsylvania has some of the most unfairly mapped congressional districts in the country. Republicans drew them seven years ago to guarantee their grip on most of the state’s 18 House seats.

Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson had no trouble last month establishing as a matter of fact that the maps were partisan.

The question now before the state Supreme Court is: How partisan is too partisan? There’s an easy answer to the question.

Before the current map was drawn and adopted in 2011, Pennsylvania had 19 House seats; 12 were held by Democrats and seven were held by Republicans. (Due to a loss of population, the state lost one seat, giving it 18.) After the current House map was adopted in 2011, Republicans took 13 of the state’s 18 seats though they won 49 percent of the vote. That’s because Republicans controlled the map-making process. They packed Democrats into tight areas like the Philadelphia region and corralled enough Republican voters into other districts to make them safe for Republican candidates. The Seventh District, held by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.), is among the most gerrymandered because it runs through five counties to deliver a majority of Republican voters. Montgomery County, which has become increasingly Democratic, is split among five House seats to dilute their power.

There is no doubt that these maps were drawn by Republicans to favor Republicans.

And there should be no wonder that such segregated House districts lead to hyper-partisanship. When candidates win races only by appeasing a small number of party activists who vote in primaries, the candidates tend to play hard to the right or the left. They don’t face meaningful opposition in a general election because there aren’t enough members of the other party to force them to moderate viewpoints. Once the candidates win, they adhere to extreme partisan positions for fear of alienating their hard bases. That keeps them from making compromises that take into account the needs of constituents other than the ones they think they represent.

But representative government is about representing us, the constituents, and not the narrow interests of a pair of political parties that don’t exactly deliver what they promise.

The court is going to make a decision favoring the interests of one party over the other. But the most fair outcome is to take drawing congressional and state legislative districts away from the political parties. Not only have they made a mess of it, but they’ve twisted maps to split towns and counties to help themselves at our expense.

There are bills pending in the state Senate and House that can put representation in the hands of the only group that ought to matter – the voters. The bills would establish an independent commission to draw not only congressional seats, but state legislative seats as well.

Tell your legislators to get these bills moving so that maybe Pennsylvania, which is where modern American democracy was born, can find out what representative government is like.