Since my first experience with map drawing back in 2001, it was apparent that partisanship plays too large a role in our redistricting effort. The recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discarding the congressional maps merely serves to reaffirm this position.
The General Assembly has long had the tools to fix the issue once and for all by taking the politics out of map drawing. It is why I am a proud prime sponsor of SB 22. This legislation provides for the creation of an independent commission to draw our lines every 10 years. This has never been a partisan issue for me, but a practical one.
One need only look at our congressional maps to understand that they were not designed with compactness, contiguity and communities of interest in mind. In fact, as Judge Kevin Brobson noted in his lower court opinion, as long as the General Assembly is involved in the process, partisanship can and will play a role. It is why courts across the country are reluctant to entertain challenges to these maps, inject themselves into the legislative process, and try to define what is too much partisanship.
Frankly, it is embarrassing that citizens need to go to court over redistricting. However, the partisan overreach and cavalier attitude with which maps are drawn in states where the legislature has the final say places us here. In Pennsylvania’s case, a picture says 1,000 words and the court could plainly see that partisanship played an overriding role.
This comes back to the core issue that needs to be addressed by the General Assembly – who should draw the maps? This is not a reflection on the actual people who draw the map, individuals I work with and respect – both Democrats or Republicans, but more an acknowledgement of the practical reality of any partisan effort. Redrawing maps fairly is too fundamental to safeguarding our democracy to allow partisanship to play a predominant role. It needs to change.
Today, perhaps more so than at any point in my time in office, people are losing confidence in the leaders they elect. In part, I believe it stems from the angst people have that the system is not working for them. Pennsylvanians need point only to the Congressional maps and plainly see that they were not designed with their best interests in mind. While elected officials may feel safer in their districts, voters are feeling more and more disenfranchised. Its why people in Pennsylvania and across the country are rising-up and challenging the maps.
Independent commissions have worked in other states and would work here. Such a process would go a long way in assuring citizens that politics will not play an outsized role in setting maps every decade. The General Assembly needs to stand together and begin rebuilding trust in the process with the citizens we serve.
The time to act is now, so this reformed process is in place for the next time maps are drawn. All the Supreme Court decision did was jettison these maps back through the partisan process from which they originated. You will never eliminate all the politics from the mapping process. However, we can learn from what other states have done and what our court are saying in their opinions.
Enough is enough, let’s reform the process now.
Lisa Boscola is a Democratic state senator form Northampton and Lehigh counties. She is the senate democratic Policy Committee chair.