Last night (January 25, 2017) I attended the first Philadelphia area meeting to end Gerrymandering, put on by Fair Districts PA. There were easily 300+ people in attendance. Fair Districts PA is a volunteer led organization attempting to start a citizens movement for reforming the way district maps are drawn up in Pennsylvania.

Below are my notes from the fantastic presentation given by Carol Kuniholm about the topic of Gerrymandering and how our current system works.

The Goal:

  • Fair Districts PA wants to make one person, one vote a reality. The current system does not make this the case; there are a large number of wasted votes in Pennsylvania.
  • Efforts like this have been successful in Arizona and California already.

Every other democratic country has independent groups build their electoral maps.

The Timeline

The next redistricting in Pennsylvania is in 2021. To ensure that the new system is in place, the legislation being proposed must be passed by the end of the legislative session in 2018.

Fundamentals of Gerrymandering

  • Part of our task is to explain this to others, part of it is explaining it to legislators. We have to make the case for why this is important, how the current system is broken, the impacts of that brokenness on our government and the citizens of PA, and how we can fix it.
  • One might imagine that voters choose their legislators in a democracy, but the current reality in America is that legislators choose their voters.
  • Every vote should count but many don’t
  • Reapportionment: every 10 years there’s a census, that defines how many reps a state gets (along with so many other things). There are 435 seats in congress, they are proportionally assigned to states based on proportional population growth.
  • In 2020 it’s assumed that PA will lose 1 if not 2 seats
  • Redistricting: districts are required to have roughly equal populations which means maps MUST be redrawn after reapportionment
  • Congressional district maps in PA are treated as a law. Reps are handed a map, they vote on it, it’s signed by the governor
  • Legislative districts are drawn by a 5 member committee, 2 republican, 2 democrat, fifth chosen jointly or by the state Supreme Court if the sides can’t agree. Our Supreme Court currently leans democrat.
  • The maps have to be in place by the election in 2022
  • Gerrymandering: the manipulation of electoral maps for political advantage
  • A sweetheart gerrymander creates safe districts and shovels as many middle ground people into swing districts
  • cracking: shovel as many like minded voters into as many districts as possible
  • packing: creating a single safe district so that their voices don’t affect others
  • PA Congressional District 7 is one of the most gerrymandered in America
  • Communities have been lassoed into districts where they have no voice (Reading, the poorest community in America is in the same district in Lancaster Farms, one of the richest in the state)
  • District 1 was fairly normal in 1962, but it has stretched and morphed so that specific people can keep office
  • There has long been Gerrymandering, but in 2011 it got way fucking worse for the following reasons
    • 1: mapping technology got a lot better and is much more sophisticated
    • 2: data mining gives politicians much better data on who lives where
    • 3: money flooded after Citizens United and unlimited money became available to help fund these efforts
  • Karl Rove in 2010: “whoever controls mapping technology controls congress”
  • The maps were built by national orgs who want to control congress
  • By 2020 the republicans are going to spend $125mil on mapping or more with “Project Redmap” and Pennsylvania is hugely important
  • The Democrats have announced 3 separate initiatives for fighting Gerrymandering
    • Advantage 2020 is one initiative
    • Unrig the map (flip Governors map), focused on electing more Democrat governors
    • Democrat National Redistricting Committee by Obama & Holder

So What Does Fair Districts PA Want?

  • Hope is not to flip the map but to reform the system for fair representation
  • Why Pennsylvania?
    • we are always a state that loses or gains seats
    • one of the last remaining swing states
    • one of the worst states for campaign finance regulations and state legislative integrity
  • Republicans have 13 districts to Democrats’ 5 despite fairly even number of R/D votes being cast in every election
  • Book to read: Ratfucked about district flipping

What are the Impacts of Gerrymandering?

  • Politicians in safe districts are afraid of attack ads, afraid of getting voted out in the primary, and find that they cannot represent extremely diverse communities fairly. Power is all in leadership’s hands and your average legislator feels stuck and helpless.
  • The whole system is an incumbent protection system
  • Nationally, 42% of voters have lost faith in their parties because the parties are playing for power and not trying represent common denominators
  • Impacts on political parties: swinging to political extremes because the elections happen in primaries and that requires appealing to the extremes.
  • Impact on voters: voters are disillusioned and frustrated with our government.
  • Impact on legislators: gridlock because the parties cannot talk and so bills cannot be passed
  • Impact on business community: small businesses feel overrun by outside interests because legislators/party leadership are more supported by industry
  • A Harvard study found dysfunctional government is our biggest hindrance and it is generated by Gerrymandering
  • Gerrymandering is the worst aspect of our electoral process, according to The Electoral Integrity Project
  • Only Wisconsin and North Carolina are worse than Pennsylvania
  • Because incumbents are protected and there’s no good way for outsiders to challenge, the US ranks 96th in the world in Legislature representation for women, PA ranks lower than 100
  • Our incumbent protection racket is the thing that hinders us from having actual equal representation
  • some have been successful but they are expensive and cost a ton and jeopardize elections by making lines unclear during the length of the litigation.
  • “Efficiency Gap Standard” is how many wasted votes we have. Pennsylvania is the worst in the nation. We could sue on this.

Pennsylvania is the outlier amongst states on many topics and not in favorable ways.

The Fair Districts PA Proposed Solution

  • A constitutional amendment to create and independent and impartial citizens redistricting commission.
  • 11 people on the commission
  • 3 pools of candidates who are prequalified, one for each party and independent voters
  • 4 randomly selected from each major party pool, 3 from independent pool
  • they are not allowed to use voter history or other such data
  • there would be public hearings to argue for districts, once a map is drawn, more public hearings would be held to discuss the map.

Closing Notes

  • Gerrymandering is the keystone of pennsylvania cronyism politics
  • Without change, 3-5 individuals will define Pennsylvania politics for the next decade
  • join to volunteer and get ready to fight fight fight