It’s a rare moment of encouraging news from the Pennsylvania Legislature: Republicans and Democrats are working together on something important. Members of both parties in both chambers are co-sponsoring legislation that would give the voters of Pennsylvania the power to end gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is a real problem in American politics. In Pennsylvania, state legislative and congressional districts were redrawn after the 2010 Census by a Republican-controlled Legislature; the measure was signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. It’s no surprise that the district lines favored Republicans. So in last year’s congressional races, Republicans got just under 54 percent of the statewide vote, but got 13 of the 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, more than 72 percent. Before any Democrats start crowing about their party’s civic virtue, consider our neighbors in Maryland, where the Democrats were in charge. Democrats got less than 61 percent of the statewide congressional vote there last year, but won seven out of eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, or 87.5 percent.
Fortunately, a solution is in the works. Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 both propose an amendment to the state Constitution. If approved, the amendment would set up an 11-member commission to handle redistricting. Four members would be from the state’s largest political party; four would be from the second-largest political party and three would be independent voters or members of smaller parties. The Pennsylvania secretary of state would pick the members and random from three pools of candidates of those three groups.
Approval of a plan would require votes from at least seven of the 11 commissioners, including one from each of the three groups.
A similar commission in Arizona had the great result of causing elections to be more competitive. If neither Democrats nor Republicans dominate in a district, candidates need to fight hard to win. In districts where one party is dominant, the larger party’s candidate fears losing to an ultra-liberal or an ultra-conservative in the primary more than the prospect of losing the general election. This leads to more ideologically extreme legislators who are unlikely to find common ground with their political rivals. Competitive districts, however, are more likely to produce moderate politicians.
Pennsylvania is a state that especially needs this because the state is not dominated by one party. Last time, Republicans were in charge of redistricting, but it could well be the Democrats following the 2020 Census. Republican legislators would be wise to pass this to avoid the prospect of Democrats deciding it’s payback time.
All state legislators, however, should be taking a position on this. Those who are not on board with this owe their constituents an explanation for why they aren’t.
The preceding editorial is the opinion of The Elizabethtown Advocate. Other opinions on this page are those of individual contributors. The Advocate aims to give its readers a wide variety of opinions.