Letter to the Editor: Redistricting Advocates’ Priorities Remain Unclear

Senate Bill 222, introduced by Senator Lisa Boscola, was referred to the Senate State Government Committee on February 26, 2021 where it awaits further consideration.

Unfortunately, I am not a member of the Senate State Government Committee. This bill has not changed since the last vote June 13, 2018.  Today, the bill remains in committee, but virtually unchanged from the 2018 version.

With that as background, I would like to offer some clarity on what is an already complex situation. As I’m sure you know, every 10 years the U.S. Census is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as for drawing congressional and legislative district maps.

The Pennsylvania Constitution provides for a Legislative Reapportionment Commission to redistrict the state Senate and the state House in the year following the census. The commission consists of five members: two Democrats and two Republicans, and a chairperson selected by those members or, if they cannot reach agreement, by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Congressional boundaries, meanwhile, are redrawn through legislative action and submitted to the Governor to be signed into law. You can follow the work of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission at www.redistricting.state.pa.us. The process is orderly and deliberate, but it’s good to explore new procedures. That’s why, in recent years, I supported legislation to create an Independent Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment and Redistricting Commission to perform the duties of reapportionment and redistricting.

I have, and will continue to, support greater public participation and more openness and transparency in this process. What I do not support is increased subjectivity or more splitting of political subdivisions, like subjective provisions that result in unnecessary splits – i.e., a requirement that a county may not contain more:

  • Senatorial districts than required by population plus 1;
  • Representative districts than required by population plus 2 and;
  • Congressional districts that required by population plus 1.

There are still far too many unanswered questions, such as:

  • Who determines and how is a ‘community interest’ determined?
  • What are ‘widely accepted measured of responsiveness’ and how would they be applied?
  • What’s a ‘redistricting plan on a statewide basis?

Until these questions are answered, the priorities of this legislation and the advocates remain unclear.

 

CONTACT: Sarah Rasmussen srasmussen@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388