Would-be reformers are already coming together to try to reform how Pennsylvania’s congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn seven years from now.
“Believe it or not, for 2021, we’re already starting to get a little bit late,” said Barry Kauffman, head of Common Cause Pennsylvania. New district lines were only recently put into effect for this decade, but it would take so long to reform the process that advocacy groups are gearing up now to push for changes.
There’s no apparent buy-in from high-powered state lawmakers, though Gov.-elect Tom Wolf showed interest during the gubernatorial campaign. But Kauffman said the nascent coalition includes some county commissioners and school board members.
“Quite a few school districts and counties got chopped up pretty badly,” said Kauffman. “And in many cases, in their best interest they’d be represented by a single legislator and or congressman instead of multiple.”
Every 10 years, political district boundaries are redrawn to reflect population changes. Some states, most notably California, are tinkering with new ways of drawing lines to break lawmakers’ and political parties’ hold on the process. Kauffman said there’s interest in establishing a citizens’ redistricting commission to break the hold the political parties have on the process.
Pennsylvania’s high court threw out the first 2012 version of new district lines for the state House and Senate, siding with people who said the boundaries carved up too many municipalities. At the time, top state lawmakers said the maps were a result of bipartisan cooperation. Advocates called the overruled maps a result of bipartisan collusion to draw new districts favorable to their respective candidates.
“This is one of those strange situations where the battle is not between Democrats and Republicans — they tend to take care of their own,” said Kauffman. “The battle tends to be more between incumbents and constituents, because under our current system we basically have incumbents picking their voters instead of voters picking their elected representatives.”