Gerrymandering and Fair Districts

Posted on May 20, 2020 · 5 mins read


Today, most elected officials are elected to represent a particular district of people. Districts are supposed to have about equal population so that no district has more power than others, but populations naturally shift over time as people are born, die, and move to other cities and states. According to the Constitution, the US performs a Census every ten years to count the number of people living in each state, region, and city, so that the data may be used to redraw the districts to keep them balanced.

District maps are redrawn by the state legislature every census, which leaves the process open to political manipulation such as political or racial gerrymandering – in other words, legislators can draw the map in a way to make sure certain districts are majority Republican or majority Democrat (so that members of those party always win), or to spread communities out across multiple districts so that they find it impossible to elect a representative despite being a large percent of the population.

Fair Districts PA is a non-partisan organization advocating a fair, independent redistricting process to eliminate gerrymandering. Fair Districts has two questions they are asking of all candidates for office this year, and I provide my responses below.

“What is your position on an independent citizens redistricting commission?”

I support an independent citizens redistricting commission as an important step toward creating free and fair elections and ending gerrymandering. To gain my full support, legislation must include representation for minor parties, political bodies, and independents, and not just major parties, to ensure that the full commission is of a non-partisan nature. House Bills HB 22 and HB 23 do provide for independent representation on the redistricting commission, and so I would support these bills as originally written as state legislature.

“What is your position on legislation to ensure transparency, public input and clear, enforceable criteria for redistricting?”

I strongly believe that the redistricting process must be transparent and developed with not only community input, but community involvement from day one of the process. It is insufficient to ask for feedback on a completed proposal after a bulk of the work has already been done. Additionally, clear, enforceable criteria are necessary to ensure that the maps are drawn without any such bias toward any community or group, such as on the basis of race or political party affiliation. Mathematical definitions of “compact” districts exist that should be used to determine districts in a fair, logical manner.

While I support the Fair Districts PA criteria and HB 22/23, I do not believe these measures alone are enough to fully address gerrymandering and create a better democracy. I would additionally advocate for the following to truly create free and fair elections:

  • Make it easier for candidates of any political affiliation - or independent - to get on the ballot. Many countries around the world require as few as 5 or 10 signatures from voters on a petition to be on the ballot, but Pennsylvania requires hundreds or thousands, depending on the office – and minor party and independent candidates typically collect many, many more than major party candidates. It’s time to make one, easy ballot access system that is simple and fair with low requirements to encourage more choice on the ballot for everyone.
  • Ranked Choice Voting and Proportional Representation voting methods. In particular, for legislative office, multi-winner proportional representation systems like Single Transferable Vote (STV) are very successful at electing diverse representation to legislatures. Multi-winner systems defeat gerrymandering as it is much harder to draw a district to create a “safe district” for 5 candidates than it is for just one. Historical data also shows ranked choice methods tend to result in “friendlier” elections focused on issues, because every candidate wants to be ranked higher in every voter’s list – it doesn’t pay to do negative campaigning since most voters will put you at the bottom of the ranking! Negative campaigning largely only works in bitterly partisan elections without ranked choice where voters are motivated by fear of an opposing party winning if the vote is “split” (which is unfortunately the system in place today).

It is critical actions be taken in the next year before the Census is complete and the next redistricting process starts, in order to ensure free and fair elections during the decade of the 2020s.

I look forward to seeing responses from other candidates in the 45th legislative district regarding this important issue for democracy.

You can learn more about my other ideas to create real democracy on my “Democracy Page” on this website.

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