EDITORIAL: Act now to ensure fair representation
The recent decision — or, more accurately, nondecision — by the Supreme Court to let stand newly drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania is not the end of the story.
And no, we’re not referring to the asinine effort to remove Pennsylvania judges from the bench for throwing out the Republican-drawn political map. Those districts couldn’t have been more transparently partisan had they been shaped in the letters G, O and P.
We make reference to the fact that, following the 2020 U.S. census, the entire redistricting process begins anew. Pennsylvania, like all states, will need to reapportion its congressional districts — state districts too, but that’s another matter — to accurately reflect changes in population.
It won’t be easy. Given relatively slow population growth in the state compared with regions in the south and southwest, Pennsylvania is likely to lose one of its 18 congressional seats. (If the Trump administration is successful in adding to the census a question regarding citizenship, the state’s 180,000 undocumented immigrants — and no doubt a portion of its more than half a million legal immigrants — are likely to duck the process, further deflating the state’s population and perhaps costing a second congressional seat.)
Can Pennsylvania’s lawmakers, then, ensure state residents they will create fairly delineated political maps post-2020?
Of course they can’t.
GOP lawmakers, having won a majority in the state Legislature in 2010, drew up maps so patently one-sided that, to this day, they enjoy a 13-5 congressional advantage even though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state 4-3.
They hold no monopoly on such partisan hijinx. Democrats, given the same opportunity, would and have likewise tilted the electoral playing field.
The answer, obvious to everyone who doesn’t currently hold state office, is to take the process out of lawmakers’ hands.
The problem, equally obvious, is that whichever party is in power will never go along.
Or, at least, that’s always been the case. But what about now?
Republicans continue to hold overwhelming majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, but there are two more statewide elections between now and the next time congressional maps will be redrawn. Recent special elections — including a congressional race on the west side of the state — have seen Democrats either pick up seats in formerly red districts or at least make substantial gains on 2016 showings. Can state Republicans maintain their majorities?
Democrats are running for fairer congressional seats this year in Pennsylvania thanks only to judicial intervention. They still face uphill battles in the state races necessary to put them in the political map-making chairs come 2021.
It would seem an opportune time for the parties to consider agreeing to an independent, third-party solution.
Of course, the fact that independent redistricting is only doing what’s right — what best serves the voters of Pennsylvania — would be a welcome fringe benefit. But as that has never been the motivating factor when it comes to political map-making, we appeal to the more-dependable legislative self-interest.
There are bills pending in both houses that would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission. They’ve been stalled by majority-party intransigence.
If you want your vote to count in future elections, make your voice heard now. Take advantage of the relative political uncertainty facing both parties and press your representatives to commit to supporting an independent redistricting commission as a condition of your support this November.
It’s the best way to ensure fair representation for voters of both parties for the decade to come.