By State Representative Wendi Thomas
(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty)
When I first ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, part of my platform was to fight for fair redistricting – to take politics out of the process of drawing legislative districts and increase competition in elections. Since my election, this is something I have worked hard to achieve.
In Harrisburg, I have worked side-by-side with like-minded Republicans and Democrats to bring about real change. I introduced legislation to make the redistricting process more transparent to the public and have worked with citizen supporters of fair districts and the Fair Districts PA organization to increase citizen involvement and reduce the influence of politicians.
This work – and the promise it held for rebuilding the people’s trust in government – was dashed by the release of a clearly “packed” House district map proposal (see below). These maps were drawn to virtually guarantee a Democrat or Republican will win each district. The hope for taking partisanship out of this process fails with this map.
Those of us who believe in independent redistricting free of partisanship believe we must follow the metrics by which courts and other professionals “grade” maps.
- The map chills competition. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the proposed map an F grade on competitiveness. Dave’s Redistricting App, a website dedicated to creating and analyzing district maps, says the proposed map is 27% LESS competitive than the current districts. (By comparison, the proposed Senate map received a C grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.)
- Districts are not compact. While Pennsylvania has some obvious geographic challenges to compactness, the proposed map is 28% and 30% LESS compact than the current map based on the Polsby-Popper and Reock scales, respectively.
- It is weak on population equity. Our state Constitution mandates each district have approximately the same number of residents, and per the U.S. Supreme Court, the commonly accepted deviation from this standard is 5% over or under the ideal population size and 10% for the overall map. The proposed map just squeaks in at 9.28%, meaning there is wide variation in district populations leaving some citizens underserved and others overserved.
- It utilizes purely partisan tools to achieve its goals. The new districts in Bucks County are “packed.” As I learned in my work on fair redistricting, “packing” is when you put as many voters from a party into a district to make it “safe” for that party and to make other districts safer for the other party. The new maps split Northampton Township by putting three districts in Langhorne. Northampton has one fire department, one police department, and is in one school district. There is no logical reason to break up Northampton Township.
One might think I would be happy with this proposed map as my district has been packed with my own party, making it less competitive. But as someone who has long fought for fairness in redistricting, I am not. As a constituent who has been dedicated to redistricting reform said, “I have worked on this project for over five years, and I am so disheartened.”
The proposed legislative map is not good for our residents, our state or our country. It only continues to sow the division that is hurting our communities. Thankfully, there is something you can do about it.
I urge every resident of Pennsylvania to make your voice – and your displeasure – heard during the public comment portion of this process which ends on Jan. 18. You can do so by visiting www.redistricting.state.pa.us/comment/ and making it clear that you do not support the current partisan gerrymandered proposal. Tell the Redistricting Commission to go back to the drawing board.