Local activists will hold a discussion on redistricting reform Thursday night at Dickinson College’s Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium.
The panel, titled “Redistricting Matters: A Nonpartisan Consensus for Cumberland County,” is scheduled to discuss efforts to change the way voting districts are configured, and how to prevent the maladjustment of such districts by political interests for political gain, an act often referred to as “gerrymandering.”
The topic has national, state and local implications. Earlier this year, the Cumberland County Commissioners adopted a resolution encouraging the state to move forward with a redistricting reform proposal that would create an independent citizens commission to re-draw the boundary lines for legislative seats.
Commissioners’ Chairman Vince DiFilippo will be one of the forum’s panelists. The panel, sponsored by AAUW Carlisle, Fair Districts PA-Cumberland Valley; YWCA Carlisle; and Cumberland Valley Rising, will also include Nancy Konhaus Griffie, chairman of the Silver Spring Township Board of Supervisors; Ron Skubecz of Fair Districts PA; and Suzanne Almeida, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
Dickinson political science professor Sarah Niebler will moderate. A reception will be held starting at 5:30 p.m., with presentations starting at 6:30.
Redistricting reform in Pennsylvania would most likely require an amendment to the state’s constitution, which specifies that redistricting be performed by a legislative commission, consisting of appointees of the state’s House and Senate majority leaders.
Those four members then select a fifth member, who may be picked by the state Supreme Court in case of a deadlock.
The use of a five-member political commission to determine district lines has led to Pennsylvania being called “one of the nation’s most gerrymandered states” by the Brennan Institute for Justice. A Washington Post analysis in 2014 found Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District in the Philadelphia area to be one of the worst ever devised, judging by the total length of its contorted boundary lines.
The problem also extends not just to Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional seats, but to boundaries for statehouse seats.
Cumberland County is increasingly divided among state House and Senate districts that have large constituencies elsewhere, an apparent effort to loop parts of Cumberland into “safe” seats for Republicans, while Democrats have done the same in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
This is already illegal in Pennsylvania, given the constitutional specification that “unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”
A challenge based on this constitutional clause resulted in a court decision that forced the state to re-draw its maps in 2010, but advocates say much more needs to be done to curb gerrymandering.
The most recent proposal in Pennsylvania is a constitutional amendment that would create a commission of 11 citizens, none of whom hold elected office, to redraw the electoral maps after every census.
As spelled out in Senate Bill 22, which is sitting in Harrisburg, the state constitution would be amended for the redistricting commission to include four members registered with each of the state’s two largest parties, plus three third-party or independent voters.