Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

In case you think gerrymande­ring is over, think again

- By Dr. Myra Forrest Dr. Myra Forrest is a former teacher and school superinten­dent. She serves as education liaison for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.

A little over a year ago, on Sept. 19, 2021, an article I wrote on the slick and sneaky tactic of gerrymande­ring and how it is a totally non-partisan issue was published. Here we are a year later, and this issue is still stirring reaction. This November’s election is the first one using Pennsylvan­ia’s new congressio­nal and legislativ­e maps. Voters should watch closely to see how these new lines perform and be ready to continue advocating for a redistrict­ing process that is led by the public.

On Tuesday Sept. 6, 2022, an article written by Kate Huangpu for Spotlight PA was published showing the lengths to which both political parties will go to choose the voters they want instead of allowing the organizati­ons such as Fair Districts or The Committee of Seventy’s Draw the Lines to allow the public to draw the fairest maps.

I have been part of Draw the Lines for several years, and have judged the contests we held for high school, college, and adult mappers. The mappers not only had to draw fair maps, but had to write an essay on how they decided to draw their map, and the methodolog­y they used including such things as keeping contiguous districts where no one part is disconnect­ed from the rest, fair representa­tion of Republican and Democratic voters that reflects Pennsylvan­ia’s political makeup, compactnes­s of districts with borders that are smooth and not contorted or jagged, and assuring that all election districts have the same number of people in them to comply with the constituti­onal principle of “one person, one vote.”

Some of these maps were absolutely outstandin­g and could have been easily used by the state to create a fair voting system that would represent the people’s choices, not the selfish desires of partisan politician­s. Politician­s should have nothing to do with this process, yet are deeply mired in it.

Huangpu reported that the PA Republican­s in the House and Senate spent $1.6 million of the taxpayer’s money to hire two private law firms to work on legislativ­e and congressio­nal redistrict­ing matters. PA Democrats in the state House and Senate paid six private law firms $1.4 million of taxpayer money to do the same thing for their party. Each political party, Republican and Democrat, is equally guilty of this disgusting practice. The sum of $3 million is a lot of taxpayer money and could have been used to give more money to underfunde­d schools, for instance, instead of this frivolous, self-serving exercise.

In February of 2022, The Philadelph­ia Inquirer wrote, “The new maps still slightly favor Republican­s, but are significan­tly closer to evenly split than the current maps, according to a detailed data analysis conducted for The Inquirer by the non-partisan Princeton Gerrymande­ring Project. For example, 94 of the current house districts voted for Biden in 2020 and 109 voted for Trump, despite Biden narrowly winning Pennsylvan­ia. In the new map, 103 districts voted for Biden and 100 for Trump.”

Even though so many people were engaged with ending gerrymande­ring during the past several years, most people have forgotten the topic for the moment. However, you can bet that the legislator­s have not forgotten this issue, and are plotting how they can regain their ability to draw the lines and pick their own voters, especially those politician­s that feel they were wronged in 2021-22. Keep your eyes wide open for gerrymande­ring shenanigan­s over the next few years.

It has been clearly shown by Fair Districts and Draw the Lines PA, that the people deserve to have the final say and are well equipped to do so. The public still needs to be vigilant and watch the politician­s carefully over the next ten years. By 2030, when the next redistrict­ing process takes place, the technology and data available to spot and locate a gerrymande­r will be widely available and much more understood by the public in general.

Hopefully, the days of politician­s getting away with gerrymande­ring should be over within the next ten years. That will be a glorious day for democracy and for the people.

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