William Marx points out one of the districts that crossed four counties as an image of the old congressional districts of Pennsylvania are projected on a wall in the classroom where he teaches civics in Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Marx was a plaintiff in the Pennsylvania lawsuit that successfully challenged the Republican-drawn congressional maps. Marx said he believes the new district boundaries resulted in "a more fair congressional representation of the will of the people in Pennsylvania."
Emily is a reporter and newsletter producer for statehouse accountability news organization PA Post, and the senior reporter for statewide public media collaboration Keystone Crossroads. She previously covered city hall for PennLive/The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) and The Press of Atlantic City, after reporting for the Northwest Herald. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
(Willamsport) — Pennsylvania will redraw its congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 census – and there’s a renewed push to change the rules before that happens.
To get voters’ input on creating future congressional maps, the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission is touring the state for a series of public meetings.
The first was in Williamsport Thursday night and drew more than 50 people.
“To me, gerrymandering is a gateway into voter suppression,” said Ron Williams, who’s involved with Fair Districts PA.
Williams believes gerrymandering leads to policies that further disenfranchise voters.
“You have districts, which are safe, you have districts where the power really goes to the party,” Williams said. “The party controlling those districts allows that power to remain. And then we see other kinds of voter suppression come in.”
Congressional districts in Pennsylvania are currently drawn by the legislature and approved by the governor. The last time this happened, in 2011, a map was drawn that many considered among the most unfairly gerrymandered in the nation.
Staff / Keystone Crossroads
Pennsylvania’s congressional map as drawn in 2011. In 2018, it was deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by the Pa. Supreme Court.
Gov. Wolf created the commission to propose ideas for how to reform the process.
Attempts to alter redistricting rules via a state constitutional amendment failed during the last legislative session. Now, because of the time it takes to change the state constitution, there’s probably not enough time before the next redistricting in 2021, although two state lawmakers are taking another shot.
Commissioner Amanda Holt says there might be another way, though.
“Maybe there are some areas that weren’t covered under the constitution that could be looked at,” Holt said.
Ron Williams, of Fair Districts PA, testifies at a Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission meeting in Williamsport on April 4, 2019.
Holt also hopes the public feedback push – which also includes online submissions – will unearth some fresh ideas.
Jordi Comas, a councilman from Lewisburg, which sits on the Susquehanna River in Union County, emphasized that numbers alone shouldn’t determine boundaries.
“I can imagine an argument for district that would include the river towns, Sunbury, Lewisburg, Milton,” he said. “Those river towns have more in common with each other in some ways than they do with the Western or Eastern ends of their counties, which are very different. And that’s not something that compact and contiguous and avoiding splits will show you.”
The commission’s findings are due this coming fall.