EDITORIAL: Pa. must act on voting maps
Pennsylvania’s political map is scheduled to go before the state Supreme Court today, and if the judges do their job, voters will have to do some homework.
That’s because a decision to redraw the state’s lopsidedly partisan map would leave precious little time to determine new districts. Still, that’s no excuse; fairer, more representative districts are long overdue, and party leaders, voters and the candidates themselves will just have to adjust.
Blame the state’s Republican majority for the mess — though why it has taken so long to reach the state Supreme Court is a head-scratcher, as was last week’s circuit court decision in a separate suit that ruled in favor of the districts.
After all, GOP mapmakers turned cartographic cartwheels in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Census to protect and pad their majority. Oddly shaped districts — one infamously dubbed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” — helped the party capture 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts – despite Democrats’ nearly 4-3 advantage in enrolled voters.
The Supreme Court’s five Democrats and two Republicans are scheduled today to hear arguments that the districts aren’t just unfair, but rise (sink?) to the level of unconstitutional gerrymandering. It shouldn’t take the bench long to concur, but it must render its decision with all due haste.
The 2018 political calendar is hard upon is.
Recall, there’s less than a month before the three-week window opens for circulating petitions to get on the ballot in this year’s primaries. That paperwork is due March 5. Obviously, candidates — and there are potentially scads of them in this first post-Trump congressional election year — can’t collect signatures without knowing the boundaries within which they need to canvas.
It is only fair to candidates from both parties, incumbents as well as challengers, for new district lines to be established as quickly as possible.
It will then be up to voters to educate themselves: Has their district changed? Are they being represented by the same incumbent? Who else is on the ballot?
It sounds like a lot to digest, but it is a small price to pay for political parity.
For their part, lawmakers will have to act with even greater dispatch. If the court strikes down the current districts, state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf would need to agree on a new map within a two-week window. Plaintiffs in the case, knowing that such accord is unlikely, have already petitioned the state Supreme Court to redraw the map if that deadline is missed.
That’s barring any further legal challenges, of course, which, should they come, must be expedited in the courts.
Pennsylvania would not be alone in having to act quickly to correct a blatantly partisan political map. A three-judge panel last week declared North Carolina’s map unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Lawmakers in that state are working to draw up fairer districts by a Jan. 29 deadline.
For its part, Pennsylvania has a little wiggle room: the window for gathering petitions and even the May 15 primary date can be moved back, at least slightly, if need be.
So, no excuses.
Pennsylvania’s voters deserve to be fairly represented. The current political map precludes that representation.
The courts and lawmakers must waste no time in ensuring a more equitable political map is quickly established so that voters can go about the business of selecting their representatives, and not the other way around.