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EDITORIAL: Take back the power of your vote
Every decade, using updated U.S. Census information, states redraw their legislative and congressional districts. In nearly 45 of the 50 states, including Pennsylvania, state lawmakers get to decide how this process will evolve.
Those in power draw the lines, creating wacky-shaped districts that can give them a lock on winning future elections.
That means that in 2020, control of the state Legislature will be crucial to political parties.
Not surprisingly, reform bills in the House and Senate are introduced by those who belong to a party (in Pennsylvania, it’s the Democrats) that won’t benefit from political gerrymandering.
Some of the districts across the northeast are so oddly shaped, they have been bestowed with names such as “bug on a windshield" and “oops, I spilled the coffee.”
Pennsylvania’s 2010 map is a consequence of the 2010 elections when the Republicans took control of both chambers of the state Legislature. Approval of the map, of course, easily passed the House and Senate.
Pittsburgh-area state Rep. Ted Harhai, a socially conservative Democrat who is widely seen as adept at the art of compromise, is retiring at the end of this year. But first, he told The Associated Press, he hopes to tackle issues involving campaign finance — he was overspent 5 to 1 during his last election — lobbyist reform and redistricting.
“The art of compromise is dead,” Harhai, 61, of Monessen, who has served 10 terms, told the AP. “It’s a one-sided political environment and no matter who has that one side, it is not healthy. It’s just come down to money and redistricting.”
“We’re the worst gerrymandered state in the nation,” Harhai added.
Harhai co-sponsored House Bill 1344. The first part of the bill looks at forming a Citizen’s Reappointment Commission modeled after California’s redistricting commission. Senate Bill 484 also calls for the formation of a commission.
The bill would also address how districts are formed, using Iowa as a model. It calls for compact, square districts that don’t allow for the division of municipalities.
State Rep. Brian Sims, of Philadelphia is also working with Maryland and Virginia representatives on similar initiatives. In a news release on PAHouse.com Democrat Sims noted Democrats are fighting in Pennsylvania and Virginia and Republicans want reform in Maryland. “. . . but voters in these states, regardless of party, lose under the current system. By working together, both parties and residents of all three states gain from fairer districts and a restoration of competition and accountability.”
We wholeheartedly agree. If we take the power of drawing voting districts out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of a commission that represents the people, it will quell the rampant ideological extremism and force lawmakers – no longer protected from electoral challenges by the opposing party – to be more responsive to all of their constituents.
To help support gerrymandering reform in Pennsylvania, join Pennsylvania Common Cause and send a message to your senator regarding this vital issue.
The time for voters from both parties to act is now, not 2020. By then it will, sadly, be politics as usual – or worse.
Take back the power of your vote from the politicians now – before it’s too late and another decade of political gridlock is upon us.