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GOP marches backwards on redistricting

York Dispatch Editorial Board
As chair of the State Government Committee, Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) will serve as the gatekeeper for all proposed election changes in the House.

Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission, the five-member committee charged with redrawing the state’s political districts in the wake of the 2020 U.S. Census, did its job well.

Too well.

In response, Republicans lawmakers have taken the first steps toward hijacking the process and returning it to their own control.

That would be a sad about-face on an issue that has only recently approached fairness after decades of partisan gamesmanship on the part of the state GOP. And voters should not let it happen.

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A little background: Pennsylvania’s political maps at the state and — especially — federal level have long been egregiously contorted to favor Republican candidates. That was no accident. GOP lawmakers were in control of the process and exploited it to their full advantage. Following the previous redistricting a decade ago, cartographical atrocities like the state’s 7th Congressional District drew national derision.

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None of this mattered to Republicans; they got the voters — and the results — they wanted: A whopping 13-5 majority of congressional seats despite a 4-3 statewide Democratic advantage in registered voters.

It did matter to the state Supreme Court, which stated the obvious when it ruled in 2018 that the congressional map was partisan to the point of being unconstitutional. The court redrew the districts and a new process for future redistricting was put in place.

Enter the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is made up of four state House and Senate leaders split evenly by party and a nonpartisan chair. It was tasked with developing post-2020 Census maps that more accurately reflected the state’s political makeup and it appears to have done just that.

For Republicans like state Rep. Seth Grove of York County, that’s the problem. Complaining that the new maps give an unfair advantage to Democrats, Grove is now leading a charge to return redistricting responsibilities to the reliable hands of … Seth Grove & Co. Out would be the reapportionment committee and subsequent gubernatorial approval; in would be an 11-member committee with seven seats selected by Republican office-holders and a process that leaves the final decisions in the hands of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The justification for subverting fairer map-making isn’t just flimsy, it’s non-existent. Remember, the maps were long tilted in favor of the GOP; the creation of more representative districts no more gives Democrats an unfair advantage than does full voting rights. But as with voter-suppression efforts, unfounded claims are all the fig leaf Republicans require to subvert democracy in favor of partisan advantage.

The new redistricting proposal, which the Grove-chaired House State Government Committee moved forward this month along party lines, is a real insult to voters, especially those who took part in recent hearings designed by the reapportionment panel to gather public input on the currently proposed maps.

Fortunately, those voters get a say on reverting redistricting to partisan theater. Grove’s proposal comes in the form of a constitutional amendment. That means it would have to be approved by both houses of the Legislature in two successive years before going on the ballot as a public referendum.

We have no faith in the Republican majorities of the statehouse to do the right thing when it comes to upholding democracy. After all, the one-party measure was swiftly passed on a party-line vote at a sparsely attended, early-morning meeting with no input from Democrats. Not exactly a profile in good-faith governing.

We do, however, have every faith in Pennsylvania’s voters. Upholding honest and transparent lawmaking while ensuring that state voters are represented fairly are reflections of democratic values, not political ideology.

Grove’s amendment does not deserve to make it through the legislative process. But if it does, voters must make sure it goes no further.