The roots of Pennsylvania’s gerrymandering problem are planted deep in the state legislature. Whichever party is the majority crams its loyal voters into districts so its candidates have easy elections. Voters don’t get to decide a fair fight because there isn’t one. The majority party picks the candidates, picks the voters, and wins.
For Republicans, the current majority party, it’s job security. For Democrats, it’s irrelevance. For voters, it’s tyranny.
That’s why hundreds of Pennsylvanians went to Harrisburg this week to protest an obscene performance by Republican despots who grabbed total control over redistricting, effectively hamstringing voters’ influence on the electoral process.
Lawmakers were supposed to hear legislation to make voting districts better reflect the state’s demographics. Instead, Republicans figured out a way to rig elections even more than they have in the past.
Without warning, without public input, and even without testimony from fellow House members, the State Government Committee, chaired by State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), shut the public out of the process to draw legislative district maps.
On the table was a bill to create an independent commission with voters unbeholden to either political party who would draw up legislative districts. But Republicans changed the bill’s requirement for independent voters to instead install party hacks. The new commission would be comprised of six members; four chosen by the majority party (Republican), with the minority party (Democratic) getting two.
That’s worse than the existing system, where district boundaries are drawn by two Republicans, two Democrats, and a possible swing voter appointed by both parties or the Supreme Court.
The governor can veto district maps. Citizens can challenge gerrymandered maps before the state Supreme Court. But the legislation from Metcalfe and his gang would cut out the governor, replace the Democratic-leaning state Supreme Court with the Republican-leaning Commonwealth Court, and most important, leave the voters out of the process.
Does anyone need more proof that these legislative thugs should get out of voters’ way and let the people choose how to elect their representatives?
The last congressional district map was ridiculous. It reached through five counties to find enough Republicans to protect Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.) and scattered Montgomery County voters among five districts.
The state Supreme Court drew a better balanced map, which is effective for the May 15 primary after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Republican challenges. That set off Republican lawmakers who threatened to impeach state Supreme Court justices who disagreed with them. This streak of authoritarianism is extremely dangerous to democracy.
Bipartisan bills in the House and Senate must be passed by June to change the state constitution in time for the 2020 census, which will be used to determine future representation. An independent commission should draw district lines for the 2022 election. But last week’s coup by Metcalfe has threatened that outcome.