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Editorial: Don't settle for less on redistricting
Pennsylvania’s previous political map was grievously one-sided, reflecting the electoral wishes of the Republican Party leaders who drew it up.
So an effort now wending its way through the state Legislature to revise the map-making process is being hailed as an improvement.
And it is — albeit a small one.
Senate Bill 22, proposed by state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton County, would create an 11-member redistricting commission and charge it with redrawing required political maps after the once-a-decade federal census. The group would be made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and three ostensibly independent members selected by the governor.
That is, as we say, an improvement. But let’s be honest: A chimpanzee throwing tomatoes at a map would be an improvement over the previous system, which saw Republicans twist and contort districts in a manner that won them 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats despite a Democrats holding a roughly 3-2 voter registration advantage statewide.
So let’s not settle for a step in the right direction when the state could instead march in an entirely new direction: Institute citizen-led redistricting commissions.
Such a move is hardly a pipedream. Indeed, Boscola’s original bill called for just that. And more than 250 state municipalities, including York County, have passed resolutions calling for this fairer, less-partial system for political map-making.
The city of York is poised to join that number. The City Council is expected to vote at its Tuesday, June 5, meeting on a resolution of support for a citizens commission.
“This is a part of a statewide effort to form a public commission that is neither Republican nor Democrat(ic), but simply a citizens’ commission for fair redistricting,” City Council President Henry Nixon told the Dispatch.
“Fair redistricting” would be far from guaranteed under the bill being weighed in the Legislature.
Because the measure calls for new maps to require at least seven votes from the 11-member commission, the bill is being touted as ensuring bipartisanship. That would not necessarily be the case. In fact, it seems quite clear that, with each party naming the four members, and a governor naming three who would presumably reflect his or her party’s leanings, the potential for a partisan vote is practically baked into the legislation.
That won’t do.
The effort to dismiss the previously lopsided political maps was a long, hard process. Too long and hard, given how blatantly partisan those maps were. It would be foolish to replace the process that created those maps with one that could ensure similar results, despite trappings of balance.
York City representatives must use Tuesday’s vote to not only affirm their commitment to true redistricting reform but to forcefully demand their state-level colleagues follow the same path.
Only through an independent citizens commission can Pennsylvania’s voters be assured they are being represented fairly through political maps that have been arrived at honestly.
They should settle for nothing less.