In 2021, three people selected by state Democratic Party leaders will decide how Pennsylvania’s legislative boundaries are drawn. Republicans will have almost no power to influence their decisions. What will these Democrats do with their power to draw state House and Senate boundaries?
Will they keep the current lines drawn by Republicans, which ensured Republican majorities in the House and Senate even when more people voted for Democratic candidates? Certainly not.
Will they decide to draw boundaries without consideration of political power so that communities can chose legislators that represent their interests? Unlikely.
Will they use their control to maximize the number of seats in Democratic hands so they can ensure Democratic majorities for years to come? That sounds the most realistic.
If the state constitution is not amended very soon, that will be the outcome Republicans will face during the next redistricting cycle. Democrats will control legislative boundaries because they will have a majority on the state Supreme Court when justices appoint the deciding fifth member to the redistricting commission in 2021. Republicans will have to trust that the three Democrats in charge of the five-person redistricting commission will not leverage their power to keep as many seats out of Republican hands as possible.
Given the history of gerrymandering by both parties, that seems unlikely.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Democrats could establish unbreakable majorities in both the state House and state Senate. I have looked at how Democrats could redraw the lines to maximize their reach — you can do it, too, if you search online for the Dave’s Redistricting app — and it doesn’t look good for Lancaster County.
Our proximity to the Democratic-leaning areas around Philadelphia means that districts could stretch out from the east and carve off chunks of Lancaster County to put them with safe Democratic seats.
In a simulation of gerrymandering in the Democratic Party’s favor, I was able to give them a safe majority in the state House, with the Republicans unlikely to win more than 98 of the 205 seats. In the state Senate, which has fewer seats, the Democrats can have an even stronger hold, with the Republicans never able to get more than 21 of the 50 seats.
A sample state Senate map gerrymandered in the Democrats’ favor shows what this would do to Lancaster County. Currently we have two Republican Senators who represent only Lancaster voters. A map gerrymandered for the Democrats could slice Lancaster up like spokes on a wheel radiating out from Philadelphia. In my simulation, voters from places like Quarryville, Strasburg and Leola would be grouped with Democratic majorities from southwest Philadelphia.
Lancaster would be split nine ways in the simulation, with seven of the seats safely in Democratic hands. Only the Elizabethtown/Mount Joy/Manheim area and a small section south of Columbia would be in safe Republican districts.
The only option to prevent Democratic Party leaders from drawing these boundaries is to amend the state constitution and change the redistricting rules. That is a lengthy process that requires bills passed in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a referendum voted on by the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Redistricting legislation came close to passing last year until it was derailed by a controversial amendment from state Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, that addressed Supreme Court representation.
Tacking highly partisan proposals onto redistricting reform will only increase chances of failure and play into the hands of Democratic Party leaders.
There little time left to amend the state constitution before redistricting in 2021. If Republican leaders don’t act in the next few months, the legislation will not pass in time.
Republicans need to get behind efforts to reform our redistricting process so citizens can have the power to end gerrymandering. They also need to make honest efforts to pass meaningful reform. Legislation that fails to reform the system and instead looks like a Republican power grab will be rejected by Pennsylvanians when they vote on the referendum.
The most viable path for reform is the “Two Bills, One Commission” option that is described on the Fair Districts PA website (www.fairdistrictspa.com). These are bipartisan bills that will set up an independent commission to draw the lines.
Regardless of party affiliation, all Pennsylvanian voters deserve to choose their legislators rather than having legislators choose their voters. If you want to stop party leaders from continuing to draw lines to maintain their power, contact your legislators and ask them to support a citizen’s redistricting commission created through House Bills 22 and 23.
Micah France lives in Millersville and is the head of Instructional Insights for Learning Sciences International.