Lehigh Valley

Pennsylvania anti-gerrymandering bill gaining traction

Pennsylvania anti-gerrymandering bill...

In just a few years, voting districts will be redrawn across the country, and there's a bipartisan push trickling down to the Lehigh Valley to do away with "gerrymandering."

Every 10 years, voting lines are redrawn with the census.

Gerrymandering refers to manipulating voting district lines to benefit a party. It's named after Eldridge Gerry, a former vice president and Massachusetts governor in the early 1800's.

In Pennsylvania, the political party in charge draws the lines.

With the lines set to be drawn again in 2020, there is a growing movement to change how the districts are divided.

Frederick "Fritz" Walker is with Fair Districts PA, a non-partisan group formed under the League of Women Voters with the goal of changing how voting lines are drawn.

"In places it's only 800 feet wide, can you imagine that," said Walker.

Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional district is considered one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

"You look at and say what the heck does this have to do with fairness. The answer is nothing," Walker said. "It's very nefarious and both parties do it when they have the opportunity."

Walker is encouraging municipalities to pass resolutions supporting a citizens' commission for redistricting in Pennsylvania.

Bethlehem Township became the latest Lehigh Valley municipality to do so.

"I think gerrymandering is problematic to an effective and robust democracy, in the sense that we thrive on competition. Districts should be competitive when there is naturally fitting competition," said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

Due to the outcome of the 2010 election, which swept Republicans into power, Borick said the GOP have benefited the most from gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.

"Harrisburg, like most places, doesn't like to give away power too easily," he said.

Borick said voters lose their choice through gerrymandering, because there is no real competition and incumbents rarely lose.

However, Walker's idea is gaining bipartisan support.

Democratic State Senator Lisa Boscola and Republican State Senator Mario Scavello co-sponsored a bill to establish an 11-member redistricting commission.

"We are pretty confident if we get this to the voters they would approve it. Of course the hard part is getting past the legislature," Walker said.

Walker said multiple municipalities, including Bethlehem Township, Whitehall, and Lehigh and Northampton counties have also signed on.

Walker said 350 people showed up to a January meeting in South Whitehall Township in support of the movement. He's confident there are politicians that do want what is best for democracy.

For change to happen, it has to pass through the legislature in two consecutive sessions, which is four years, then be voted on by citizens.


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