How to fix gerrymandering in Pennsylvania? Let the voters decide | Editorial

The new congressional map released Monday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In an attempt to tamp down partisan gerrymandering, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a new congressional district map far more fair than the current, partisan map. Of course, it set off another series of bar fights with more legal challenges.

All this partisan bickering should be Exhibit A in the case for voters to stand up for their rights to choose their own representatives.

Partisans create districts that favor the party in power. Among other things, this prevents healthy debate on important issues like immigration, gun violence, and income inequality.

Republicans are now complaining that the state Supreme Court’s new map — created when the court rejected a revision from Republicans —   usurps the legislature’s power to control House district boundaries. They’ve accused the court of being partisan because it’s controlled by Democrats.

Previously, Democrats complained that the Republican-controlled legislature drew districts to favor their own candidates. Both can be right, but both are a distraction. Neither party should have such outsized influence over elections. That’s the voters’ job. The parties have usurped the voters’ power.

The state Supreme Court map released Monday is much fairer than the existing map. Still, neither should the court be drawing up congressional districts. But it was forced to because the Republican map tilted the playing field so far toward the GOP that it was declared unconstitutional. Republicans hold 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats even though voting is almost evenly split between the two parties.

Back in 2011, gerrymandering by the GOP split 28 counties and 68 towns. The party dumped pieces of Montgomery County into five districts and split up the cities of Chester and Reading, diluting their power to elect representatives who would have to answer to their residents.

The most gerrymandered district was the Seventh, which ran through five counties to gin up enough Republicans to keep Rep. Pat Meehan in office. (He’s not seeking reelection following news of a sexual-harassment complaint.)

The new map splits only 13 counties and 19 towns, doesn’t split Chester and Reading, keeps Montgomery County largely intact, and corrects the old Seventh District.

This map could be used in the May 15 primaries. If it is, analysts say, Democrats may pick up two or three congressional seats in Pennsylvania as a result. But Republican litigation may throw the court-drawn map into question.

There is a long-term solution to the bickering, but it’s being suffocated in the legislature. Bipartisan bills to create an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts have already been introduced.

The commission would employ statisticians, cartographers, and demographers to help draw maps that would follow fairness guidelines to make districts compact and contiguous. That would give more voters the chance to elect representatives who reflect their interests.

It’s hard to imagine any sound reason not to adopt this rational, fair method. But even though the legislation enjoys considerable support, with 18 of the 50 senators and 108 of the 203 House members signing on as cosponsors, GOP leadership is sitting on the bills.

Call the lawmakers, remind them that you expect fair elections, and urge them to move the bills.