Rinse and Repeat: Rigging the Game

Extreme partisan bias in PA and nationally continues to make elections less fair

Some topics bear repeating. Sometimes repetition is important because a topic is complicated and nuanced and absorbing the information is a process. Other times repetition is warranted because it is human nature to not pay attention until we are confronted with the reality of a situation. Repetition may also be warranted when the topic is of such importance that we could be at great risk if we ignore it or do not give it its just due.

As far as I am concerned, all the above pertain to my writing yet again, about the use of gerrymandering during the decennial redistricting process.

I have discussed redistricting reform at 50 of my 112 town hall meetings and this topic was the main focus at 12 of those town halls.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, gerrymandering has a real impact on the balance of power in Congress and many state legislatures.

In 2010, Republicans (in an effort to control the drawing of congressional maps) forged a campaign to win the majority in as many state legislatures as possible. It was wildly successful, giving them control over the drawing of 213 congressional districts. The redrawing of maps that followed produced some of the most extreme gerrymanders in history. In battleground Pennsylvania, for example, the congressional map gave Republicans a virtual lock on 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, even in elections where Democrats won the majority of the statewide congressional vote.

Nationally, extreme partisan bias in congressional maps gave Republicans a net 16 to 17 seat advantage for most of the last decade. Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania alone — the three states with the worst gerrymanders in the last redistricting cycle — accounted for 7 to 10 extra Republican seats in the House.

On the state level, gerrymandering has also led to significant partisan bias in maps. For example, in 2018, Democrats in Wisconsin won every statewide office and a majority of the statewide vote, but thanks to gerrymandering, won only 36 of the 99 seats in the state assembly.

While legislative and congressional district shapes may look wildly different from state to state, most attempts to gerrymander can best be understood through the lens of two basic techniques: cracking and packing.

Cracking splits groups of people with similar characteristics, such as voters of the same party affiliation, across multiple districts. With their voting strength divided, these groups struggle to elect their preferred candidates in any of the districts.

Packing is the opposite of cracking: map drawers cram certain groups of voters into as few districts as possible. In these few districts, the “packed” groups are likely to elect their preferred candidates, but the groups’ voting strength is weakened everywhere else.

In Pennsylvania, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, is responsible for redrawing the district boundaries for state senate and state representative districts. The commission is composed of 4 legislators and a 5th person who chairs the commission, who is not a member of the legislature.

In Pennsylvania, Congressional redistricting goes through the legislative process and is voted on by the General Assembly and then signed into law or vetoed by the Governor.

Court challenges can be brought by citizens and these challenges are decided by the PA Supreme Court.

Over the past 10 years, many efforts have been undertaken to reform the redistricting process and I have been very involved in many of those efforts.

One significant effort has been to implement an Independent Redistricting Commission, but these efforts have been discouragingly unsuccessful. Efforts have, however, resulted in a very ‘woke’ group of citizens who are paying close attention and following this redistricting process closely. For additional information on these citizen efforts, you can visit Fair Districts PA and the Committee of Seventy.

Redistricting impacts policy and outcomes. If you are concerned about any state or federal policy initiative from the environment to taxes to student debt to fair funding for basic education etc., then you have no choice but to be concerned about how redistricting occurs in our state.

It bears repeating, to ensure more competitive elections with candidates elected who have less extreme political views, the redistricting process must be transparent, and districts must not be gerrymandered. For anyone who has not seen what gerrymandered districts look like, go to my Facebook page for a view of many of the gerrymandered districts in PA.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts on this and any other state related matter. You can contact me at 215-482-8726 or email me at RepDeLissio@pahouse.net. For videos of past town halls and other information visit my website at RepDeLissio.com

ED NOTE: Could math provide a solution to our redistricting dilemma? According to a recent article on nbcphiladelphia.com, computers can draw accurate congressional maps that could set a new standard of fairness and neutrality for voters. 11 top math & data science professors at universities across Pennsylvania are submitting their congressional map to Commonwealth Court January 24th for consideration. 

About Pam DeLissio 43 Articles
Representative Pamela A. DeLissio serves the 194th Legislative District, which includes East Falls.

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