Legislature must choose gerrymandering solution carefully
For over a year, the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, has been reviewing proposals to change how election lines are drawn.
Under the current system, the four legislative leaders plus a fifth member they or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court appoints establish the General Assembly’s election districts. Congressional districts are determined by statute. Opponents say both systems too often result in “gerrymandering.”
“Gerrymandering” is named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry who in 1812 signed a bill establishing election districts. Opponents said one map was so odd it resembled a salamander; Gerry’s name plus “salamander” gives us “gerrymander.”
Because the Commonwealth’s current process is outlined in Pennsylvania’s Constitution, changes require a constitutional amendment and California has been much of the focus.
California’s appointments begin with applications. Of the over 35,000 applicants, 5,000 submitted essays reviewed by randomly chosen auditors and from this list, 14 citizens were randomly chosen to serve on the California commission.
I agree: Pennsylvania needs an independent citizens’ commission. However, I simply cannot in good conscience delegate appointments to a process even supporters called “complicated and complex.”
I believe the Legislature has an unquestioned responsibility to ensure any redistricting commission is carefully chosen. I take my oath of office seriously to support, obey, and defend both the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution and to discharge my duties “with fidelity.” Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution establishes the requirement to apportion congressional districts and gives states the authority to establish qualifications.
Working with various proponents of redistricting reform, I’m pleased to have helped advance a measure to bring needed changes to our Commonwealth’s redistricting process.
The Senate State Government Committee recently approved proposed changes to establish an 11-member independent commission approved by two-thirds votes of the General Assembly: two Democrats and two Republicans approved by two-thirds vote of the Senate, two Democrats and two Republicans approved by two-thirds vote of the House, and three independents or other parties approved by two-thirds vote of both chambers. A two-thirds vote ensures everyone is both heard and has meaningful input.
While details of the application and selection process need further refinement, I very much appreciate the willingness of those who have been working with me to defer this knotty issue while we continue to work with one another to advance the proposed constitutional amendment. I’m honored by their trust and I look forward to continuing to work to resolve the issues associated with this key component of a revised redistricting process.
At the same time, I’ve questioned the role of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court under both our existing Constitution and with possible constitutional changes.
I believe the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exceeded its authority by their recent actions to redraw 2011 congressional maps. The Court appointed a Special Master: one person, from out-ofstate. No public input. No public hearings. No opportunities to question the new lines.
I find this lack of openness and transparency to be troubling at best and a blatant disregard of our Constitution at worst. Either way, if we’re going to change the redistricting process, I believe these issues must be addressed as well.
I hope the changes we have proposed will help to secure and protect the integrity of our Constitutional Republic. I believe in our system of government and I remain committed to its enduring ability to protect our inalienable God-given rights.
State Sen. Mike Folmer represents Pennsylvania’s 48th Senatorial District in portions of Lebanon, Dauphin and York counties.