Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Public Comment Period on Proposed Redistricting Ends Wednesday at Midnight

Just a couple of days remain for public comment on the proposed redistricting of Pennsylvania’s election district boundaries. Wednesday, November 30 is the closing date for comments on the proposed redistricting maps. Granted, these are preliminary maps but I get the sense that they are not likely to change. We have until midnight on Wednesday to email comments to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission at:

The General Assembly in Harrisburg decides the boundaries for the Congressional districts but the top four minority and majority leaders of the General Assembly make up the Reapportionment Commission that decides the boundaries for state house and senate districts with the help of a fifth member they appoint as a tie-breaker. The process of redistricting in Pennsylvaniais unsatisfactory; five individuals conduct this entire process without any requirement for public input until the final plan is put on public view for 30 days before its passage.

The outcome of Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan should come as no surprise. Although the Republican Party is in power for this redistricting process, given the next 10 years and the next census, the power shift could change to the Democrats. Regardless of which party holds the majority at the time of Pennsylvania’s redistricting, without some form of redistricting reform, sadly a similar politically driven outcome is all but guaranteed.

Redistricting reform is needed, including an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission for all electoral levels. Such a commission would require people who would not have a personal stake in the outcome of the redistricting; unlike the way it is done now. No elected or political party officials could serve on this independent commission; the new redistricting process should prohibit the inclusion of party registration data and voting history.

The realty is that sweeping nonpartisan redistricting reform is unlikely. Redistricting is a powerful tool for elected officials to protect their own and undermine opponents. Depending on who is in power at the time of redistricting is what determines the election boundaries — thus minimizing the role of the voters in the political process. By gerrymandering the districts, legislators have been able to choose the voters before the voters have had an opportunity to choose them. Without nonpartisan redistricting, the cycle will continue . . . regardless of which party is in power.

Although it is too late for redistricting reform in 2011, you can still send in your comments to the redistricting commission. Much has been written about the proposed redistricting changes, but if you are not sure how it will affect you, there is a good online resource. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission website includes interesting interactive maps of the voting districts across the state. You can see the overlay of maps from 1991, current 2001 and proposed 2011 for the House, Senate and Congress. The maps detail the geographic boundaries and the changes in the districts as the population has shifted. In addition to the interactive maps, the website contains the 2010 US Census population statistics.

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