The topic: gerrymandering
To the Editor:
Of all the political issues that have been swirling and churning around me over the last few months, one has hit me hardest. The reason is that it’s so basic: We voters should choose representatives who, you know, represent us. Across a lot of the country, and especially here in Pennsylvania, this doesn’t happen as much as I used to assume.
The reason our votes are not counting as they should is that our legislative districts have been redrawn by those in power in order to help them stay in power. New district outlines make little geographic sense because they are calculated to keep a seat safe for a particular party. The name for this is gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is elected representatives choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their representatives. It is antithetical to the way democracy is supposed to work. There are all kinds of ways to gerrymander districts, but one of the most common—packing—is particularly relevant to our community.
Packing takes a district that is already regularly voting for one party, then redraws the lines to squeeze lots more people from that party into that district. This ensures that these new people waste their votes in a place that was going to go for their party anyway, rather than having the opportunity to exercise influence in a more balanced district.
This is what happened to Swarthmore after the last census, when it got moved into the safely Democratic Congressional District 1. Despite the example above, gerrymandering is — truly — a nonpartisan issue. Both Democrats and Republicans do it when they get the chance. And legislators of both parties in Pennsylvania complain of party leaders using gerrymandering to threaten them: If you don’t vote the way we tell you to, we’ll redraw your district so you can’t get elected. Thus gerrymandering forces the people who are supposed to represent us to do the bidding of entrenched leadership instead.
Pennsylvania’s maps will be redrawn again after the 2020 census. The good news is that there is a fast-growing movement to change the way the maps are drawn.
The idea is to set up an independent citizen’s commission (modeled on a method that has worked in other states) to draw fair maps, rather than letting the legislators and parties do it. A bipartisan bill in the State Senate right now — SB-22 — would set up such an independent commission.
Maybe you were at the recent panel at the Swarthmore Public Library where these issues were discussed. If not, there are many upcoming opportunities to learn more, including one at Penncrest High School in Media on April 24.
More information about that event, and about SB-22, is available on the website of Fair Districts PA (www.fairdistrictspa.com). Reclaiming our government begins here. It’s exciting to be a part of it.