Gerrymandering Fix Unlikely Before Deadline
A deadline to change the way Pennsylvania draws its legislative maps in time for 2021 redistricting is fast approaching, but it seems school’s out for summer.
The state House adjourned Monday, leaving in limbo a handful of important legislation — among them a Senate-approved bill to create an independent commission purported to eliminate gerrymandering.
The proposal currently languishing in the House (and bogged down with more than 700 proposed amendments) would create an 11-member commission, with eight members chosen by House and Senate leaders of both parties and three picked by the governor, responsible for approving new maps.
If a seven-member majority could not agree, it would go to the General Assembly to break the tie.
The bill also includes a controversial proposal introduced by Senate Republicans to create judicial districts across the state, rather than allow for at-large representation.
Republican legislators said the move would make judicial bodies more accountable to their voters, while Democrats called the amendment a “poison pill” used to retaliate against judges with whom legislators disagreed — including the state Supreme Court judges who invalidated the previous congressional map.
The bill would need to go through before a July 6 deadline to allow for adequate public notice before voters would be given the chance to weigh in on proposed changes to the state constitution, which would overhaul the mapmaking process in advance of 2021 redistricting.
“While it would appear Monday is the last day of legislation session until the fall, the chamber did leave open the possibility to return during the next two weeks,” Capitolwire reported.
The Inquirer noted, however, that House Speaker Mike Turzai told representatives to enjoy time with their families this summer, leaving many activists doubtful anything would pass before the deadline:
While the representatives could be called back into session, lawmakers and activists agree that the chances of reaching an agreement before the deadline have dimmed.
“Well, we came close. We’re proud of how far we got, we’re proud we made it a statewide conversation,” said Carol Kuniholm, the head of Fair Districts PA, a coalition of volunteer activists and groups leading the redistricting reform movement in the state.
But close wasn’t what Kuniholm and others had hoped for.
“This is a bit of a sobering moment for us,” she said, “because we’re saying, ‘Will we ever get a toehold strong enough to bring about the change that we want?’ We’re not sure.”
Some are tired of waiting.
WITF’s Katie Meyer reported that activists held a sit-in Tuesday afternoon at Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, urging him to call a special legislative session.
“We demand representation. Their response? Go on vacation,” they chanted.
The March on Harrisburg protesters acknowledged Wolf could not force a vote, and some expressed concerns Democrats also could just offer half-hearted support for reform until they earned the chance to draw maps beneficial to their candidates.
New poll results show voters want Harrisburg to change the way maps are drawn.
A new Suffolk University/York Daily Record poll of likely voters showed 46 percent in favor of eliminating partisan gerrymandering; those respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with the state Supreme Court’s order to redraw the districts created after the 2000 census. Only twenty-nine percent of respondents disagreed with the court order.
WITF reported that the two-dozen activists remained for about six hours before calling it a day, with some saying they have additional events planned to call attention to the issue and perhaps pressure a vote.