EDITORIAL: Still room for redistricting improvement

York Dispatch editorial board
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Pennsylvania’s House State Government Committee this week will hold the first of 10 planned public hearings on the state’s congressional redistricting process and state Rep. Seth Grove, who will oversee the hearings, is saying all the right things in the lead-up.

“Government should be transparent, and that starts with how district maps are drawn,” said the Dover Township Republican.

True enough. But there’s an old adage in writing: show, don’t tell. And what Grove’s Republican Party has shown over the years is enmity toward fair and transparent redistricting in the state.

Political districts are redrawn following the once-a-decade national census and the GOP’s post-2010 efforts were transparent only in the sense that they were transparently partisan. Nonsensically contorted Republican-favoring districts like the 7th’s infamous “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” were first laughed at by political analysts, then laughed out of court.

In fact, the state Supreme Court found the political map, which rewarded Republicans with a 13-5 congressional majority at a time when registered Democrats outnumbered GOP voters, not only risible but unconstitutional. The judges in 2017 belatedly but correctly replaced it with one of their own making, resulting in an 8-8 split between the parties.

But this is all ancient history, right? Republicans have learned their lesson.

That would be easier to swallow if GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano wasn’t actively campaigning to conduct an Arizona-style “forensic audit” (read: taxpayer-funded waste of time) of Pennsylvania ballots from the long-settled 2020 presidential election.

Frankly, the ongoing refusal of vast swaths of elected Republicans, including in Pennsylvania, to acknowledge that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election fairly and decisively not only insults the majority of America’s voters and the good people of both parties who oversaw an honest and accurate election in the teeth of a global pandemic, it undercuts the party’s trustworthiness in all election-related matters.

A party that has spent the past eight months peddling fictions about the 2020 election as an excuse to pass all manner of voter restrictions has ceded any claim to responsible governing and any right to shape the electoral process.

Or, at least, in a perfect world it would have.

In our imperfect world, Republicans will indeed have their fingerprints all over the state’s new congressional maps, which is why the upcoming public hearings are so important. There are 10 scheduled, with an Oct. 13 session planned for the state’s South-Central region.

State residents must use these hearings to send a loud, clear message that the state cannot revert to the politically driven districts of a decade ago. (They can also weigh in online.)

While an entirely independent redistricting body would be preferable, at least the current process, which requires the General Assembly to submit congressional maps to the governor for his approval, won’t be the one-party sham as it was in 2011, when Republicans occupied both houses of the Assembly and the governor’s mansion. The need for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature should, theoretically, preclude the most brazen gerrymandering attempts.

And the addition of public hearings and input is likewise a welcome change, so long as these professed efforts at greater transparency are not simply window dressing.

With the state’s congressional districts dropping from 18 to 17, there are political interests at play (think “musical chairs” writ large). But the overwhelming priority should be compact districts that provide fair representation to state residents of all political views.

That message must be made clear, over and over, at the statewide public hearings. It’s one thing to talk about transparency and fairly drawn district maps. It’s quite another to deliver.