Ralliers try to convince Pa. lawmakers to act on gerrymandering

In this 2017 photo, protesters in Harrisburg call on lawmakers to support redistricting reform. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

In this 2017 photo, protesters in Harrisburg call on lawmakers to support redistricting reform. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

Advocates for overhauling the redistricting process packed the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg Tuesday hoping to persuade lawmakers to take their quest seriously.

Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are considered among the most unfair in the country.

Anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA thinks lawmakers shouldn’t have sole authority to draw the lines. Instead, they want an independent citizens’ commission to get a say.

There are only a couple ways to make that change.

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One is a lawsuit. The League of Women Voters filed one against the commonwealth early this summer that aims to get the current congressional map declared unconstitutional. But it’s not guaranteed to totally revamp the process. Plus, top Republicans have filed applications to delay consideration of the case, arguing a similar one is already underway in Wisconsin, and that the Pennsylvania courts should wait for that verdict.

The other option is for lawmakers to amend the constitution. But that requires a lot of legislative cooperation — and Republican leaders have cited a variety of reasons for not acting.

For one, the process has to start off in the House and Senate State Government Committees. And committee chairs — like Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe — aren’t on board.

“Ninety-six of his colleagues have sponsored House Bill 722,” Fair Districts PA Chair Carol Kuniholm said of Metcalfe’s decision not to prioritize the redistricting bill. “[It’s] the bill second most cosponsored in the House in this session.” 

About GOP leaders more generally, Kuniholm said their reluctance to take up the issue is “simply a ploy.”

“We know it’s a ploy,” she said. “We’re not convinced, and we’re not interested.”

Gerrymandering is often seen as a partisan issue

But Kuniholm noted, the shoe could easily be on the other foot — when the maps are redrawn again in 2021, Democrats could come out on top. She said Fair Districts would oppose gerrymandering by them, too.

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