Fair Districts PA discusses gerrymandering at NAACP event

READING, Pa. - Jill Greene, a volunteer speaker for Fair Districts PA, spoke to a small group Thursday evening at the Queen City Family Diner in Reading about gerrymandering and Senate Bill SB 22.

The event – "Redistricting in PA – We Want our Votes to Count" – was an NAACP "Munch and More" event hosted by the Reading branch of the NAACP.

Greene explained that congressional representatives, state legislators and many local officials are elected from districts. Every 10 years the national census recounts populations, and if there is a significant change, those districts are redrawn.

Gerrymandering occurs when those in charge of redistricting, which are currently politicians, manipulate those district lines to favor one party or another.

Pennsylvania was redistricted in 2000 and 2010 and will be again in 2020.

"It [redistricting] is totally legal," Greene said. "It’s written into the Constitution, but how it's been used recently has gotten so out of hand that a lot of people realized that we need to make some changes."

Greene explained that Pennsylvania will always have districts that are heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

"“That isn't what we're talking about," she said. "We're talking about this unnatural kind of division of the population for partisan purposes."

Greene shared that gerrymandering has been going on for decades and is not a new issue instigated by the last presidential election and that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering.

The result of gerrymandering, according to Greene, is that it allows politicians to pick their voters, enabling them to be elected with very little effort, and it makes sure certain groups have a voice while other groups go unheard.

She used Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, which includes both Reading and Lancaster, as an example. She said Lancaster's main industries are farming and tourism.

"What does it [Lancaster] have in common with a post-industrial city [Reading] with a 40 percent poverty rate with one of the most under-funded school districts in the country? It’s really shameful what they did. There was no reason for that," Greene said.

Greene said Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan, statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that believe free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, has priorities regarding gerrymandering that include an independent redistricting committee (no politicians), a transparent process with public participation (currently, the public has no say), a strict timeline for completion, and the addressing of other causes of districting unfairness.

Fair Districts PA supports redistricting reform bills SB 22 and HB 722.

"There's a lot of bipartisan support for this bill," Greene said.

The challenge is that it requires a constitutional amendment that is approved by two successive legislative sessions, then approved by voters in a public referendum.

For the bill to pass before the 2020 redistricting, it needs to be approved during the 2017/2018 legislative session this fall and again in the 2019/2020 legislative session.

She asked those in attendance to ask their local town council, school board, and county commissioners to pass a resolution in support of the amendment.

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