General Assembly

THE ISSUE

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take on a case from Wisconsin that could ultimately determine how states draw their electoral district boundaries. Pennsylvania has long been considered one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country. As The Associated Press reported June 15, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania is leading a new lawsuit seeking to throw out the map of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander that favors Republicans. According to an AP analysis, the map of congressional districts drawn by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature helped the GOP win nearly three more of the state’s U.S. House seats than the party otherwise would have won in last year’s election.

This is not the way it’s supposed to work.

Drawing congressional districts should not be a partisan exercise, regardless of which party is in power. And let’s face it. If given the choice, Republicans or Democrats will always welcome the opportunity to bend, twist and fold the boundaries to assure an easy victory.

For example, the 7th Congressional District was redrawn by Republicans in Harrisburg to include seven heavily Republican municipalities in eastern Lancaster County that previously were in the 16th District.

Democrats, on the other hand, are longing for the chance to create another Democratic district in the Philadelphia suburbs and gain a House seat.

In 2012, Aryanna Strader, the Democratic challenger to Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, was gerrymandered out of the 16th District in which she was running. She lived only three-quarters of a mile from Pitts’ home in southern Chester County. She wasn’t able to vote for herself because she now lived in the 7th District.

We challenge anyone to make a common-sense argument on behalf of such a move. It has been five years, and we haven’t heard one yet.

Gerrymandering has become yet another example — and it’s up against some pretty stiff competition — of the gross mishandling of the people’s business by our lawmakers. And it’s unfortunate, though not shocking, that Pennsylvania is one of the national leaders in this practice.

And we wonder why there’s gridlock.

When a legislator doesn’t have to worry about losing an election, what incentive does he have to reach across the aisle and compromise?

“Moderate congressmen and women have become an endangered species, as ‘safe’ red or blue districts have encouraged more extreme politics that do not serve the interests of the people being represented,” Grace Heiland, of Mount Joy, wrote to LNP in April.

We’ve received several similar letters.

“This practice does not care about the well-being of the people in the district. It cares about the well-being of the party in power. And one of the sorry effects of this practice is a chain reaction that results in gridlock,” wrote Claudia Kirk, of Bart Township.

It’s shortsighted to dismiss such frustrations as sour grapes from the minority party.

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying until something changes: The only way to restore integrity to this process is to take it away from politicians and establish an independent, truly bipartisan citizens’ commission to do the job. California did it under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

An independent citizens’ commission isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s a vast improvement over the status quo.

There is pending, bipartisan legislation in Pennsylvania that would establish an independent commission to draw legislative districts. But any reform bill would have to pass two, consecutive legislative sessions and would require amending the Pennsylvania Constitution. We’d like to think such a thing is possible. But based on history, it’s more likely that magic pixies will invade the state Capitol.

One way or another — via legislative action or the courts — the practice of gerrymandering needs to be mothballed and stored. It should be dusted off only decades from now so future generations can see, for educational purposes only, another antiquated example of ineffective government.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. Congressional districts are supposed to represent the people who live within their boundaries. Right now, they don’t.

It seems only a handful of lawmakers in Harrisburg is willing to recognize this. Those who do understand that gerrymandering isn’t good for Democrats, Republicans or independents.

It isn’t good for Pennsylvania.