Pennsylvania politics has given elevated status to Elbridge Gerry who, as Massachusetts governor in 1812, constructed a voting district so favorable to his party and so convoluted in shape that it resembled a salamander. Since then, we've called the practice of manipulating electoral maps for political purposes "gerrymandering", and both political parties are equal offenders.
This state of affairs has gotten much worse since Gerry's time, given today’s sophisticated data mining and mapping technology…and thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, outside interests pour tons of money into local elections, generating intensely aggressive, negative campaigns.
In Cumberland County, gerrymandering has resulted in a hodge-podge of district boundaries, meaning that when an issue arises that impacts us, we’re forced to interact with three state senators and six state representatives.
Fair Districts PA, a non-partisan state-wide organization, is now pushing a reform agenda that is incorporated in PA House Bill 722 and PA Senate Bill 22, each of which have bi-partisan support. The thrust of this proposed legislation is creation of a non-partisan, independent commission to configure district boundaries based on census data generated every decade, allowing voters to choose their political representatives, not the other way around.
These bills must pass the legislature in two different sessions and then be passed by a state-wide referendum, satisfying requirements necessary for adoption as a constitutional amendment. Fair Districts Cumberland Valley is pressing state legislators in Harrisburg to get these bills out of committee, and urging local townships and municipalities to endorse a resolution of support already signed by County Commissioners DeFilippo, Hertzler and Eichelberger.
This is a unique opportunity for all PA residents to participate in restoring our democratic process, thus making our politics less polarized and those representing us in government more accountable and responsive. We should all embrace this effort.