Throughout our history, Americans have aspired to “form a more perfect union.” We as a people have sought to achieve a fair, representational democracy where the citizens fairly select their representative where our elected officials are responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents; and where the vestiges of historic and ongoing racial discrimination are removed.
Yet redistricting practices too often threaten our democracy’s vibrancy, inclusiveness, transparency and the accountability of its elected officials. Instead in many cases, the process is used as a means for those with the political power to maintain power regardless of the wishes of the electorate. Communities are disenfranchised, depriving citizens of the sense of ownership of our democracy.
Election are intended to provide citizens the power of representative self government. Elections are a key way every voter can hold power accountable and make elected officials responsive to their concerns. For elections to serve their function, election officials must give voters a fair opportunity to choose their leadership. When the redistricting process is hijacked by the two major political parties to assure the reelection (or defeat) of any party or candidates, this destroys the essential lynch pin of democracy by rendering the vote meaningless.
Pennsylvania’s highly politicized redistricting process disenfranchises voters. The creation of safe districts for incumbents or candidates of either of the major parties meant that the party primary is often the real election in most of Pennsylvania. Voters registered in the minority party in a district and independent voters (those with neither R nor D registration) have little or no voice in their government. The most extreme wings of each party tend to dominate, and moderates are marginalized. Larger segments of the public are not represented in the PA General Assembly of Congress. The art of government, creative compromise, is nullified.
When politicians try to assemble voting districts of “like minded” voters, odd shaped sprawling districts result. Candidates are stretched too far, forced to reach electors in too many townships and counties.
Moreover, common interest among voters are lost when districts meander over large distances.
The current process for drawing legislative districts is provided in the Pennsylvania state constitution. Redistricting is done entirely by elected officials: for the state legislatures, the four ranking minority and majority legislators pick a fifth member and redraw the boundaries. For the Congress, the legislature as a whole does the map through legislation that is signed by the governor.
This politicized redistricting process means that every 10 years, the majority political party of the moment structures the representative districts to optimize the election of its candidates. Election outcomes are predetermined before a single vote is cast. This severely reduces competition which makes no sense for any constituency. Furthermore, the practice of “packing” voters of the other party in to as few districts as possible skews election results. The number of candidates elected from the party that controls the process is grossly disproportionate its total share of the votes statewide. Redistricting reform will help restore competitiveness in the Pennsylvania’s congressional and legislative elections.
Our goal is to advance the fundamental purposes of representative democracy by reforming the redistricting process to give the voting public a meaningful choice in electing their representatives. The process must be fair, transparent, open to public participation, free of partisan influence, and promote competitive elections. Redistricting plans must meet strict standards that discourage gerrymandering for strictly partisan purposes.
The Keystone Campaign is committed to improving the lines for districts on the federal, state and local level to ensure free and equal representation.