Gerrymandering: Why it should matter to you
Gerrymandering is the process of manipulating electoral district boundaries for the purpose of conferring an advantage to a particular party or group. Whether Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or other, gerrymandering diminishes your ability to have your voice heard by your representatives in government and to have a functioning government that works for its citizens.
Gerrymandering has been around for a long time (since 1812, in fact), but has become much more extreme in recent years with the advent of technology enabling politicians to create districts based on party registration, race, or other factors with such precision that the politicians effectively choose their constituents rather than the voters choosing their representatives. With such safe districts, we end up with representatives pandering only to their base with no motivation to compromise, leading to partisan gridlock in Washington.
This, in my opinion is the most damaging effect of gerrymandering, that is, the extremism it fosters in our representatives who cater only to their base. This harms all Americans, but is especially egregious in Pennsylvania, widely considered one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. After the 2010 census, with control of our state house firmly in the hands of Republicans, our district map was gerrymandered in favor of Republicans and has remained so since then.
In 2012, “Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates than their Republican opponents, but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington” (source: Republican State Leadership Committee REDMAP). Put another way, although Democrats won 50.5 percent of the total votes, only 28 percent of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation are Democrats.
In 2014, Republicans did win more votes than Democrats. Republicans won 55.5 percent of the votes, yet maintained 72 percent of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House seats.
In 2016, again Republicans won 54 percent of the votes and retained that 13-5 majority (72 percent of the seats for winning 54 percent of the votes statewide).
What this means is that the composition of the Congressional delegation that Pennsylvania sends to Washington does not match what we voted for. In my opinion, Pennsylvania should be sending a delegation to Washington that reflects our values. This has not happened since the redistricting that occurred after the 2010 census. In this respect, the 2011 map of Pennsylvania districts essentially negates the principle of one person, one vote embodied in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This means that issues that are important to me (and, I believe, other Pennsylvanians), such as the environment, healthcare, and gun control, are not addressed in a way that reflects the values of Pennsylvanians, myself included.
Environment: an issue I care deeply about.
Consider the League of Conservation Voters scorecard (http://scorecard.lcv.org/members-of-congress): The lowest score of the five Democratic congressional representatives for 2016 is 97 percent (the other four all have 100 percent). The lifetime scores are 86 percent, 100 percent, 100 percent, 76 percent, and 97 percent. Conversely, the highest score of the 13 Republican Congressional Representatives for 2016 is 47 percent, with 4 receiving a score of 0 percent. Lifetime scores range from 3 percent to 47 percent.
My own congressman, Glenn Thompson of the 5th District, has a 3 percent score for 2016 and a 5 percent lifetime score.
In other words, our Democratic representatives vote more consistently to safeguard the environment. At least half of Pennsylvanians, including myself, are in favor of this, and yet our Congressional delegation in Washington does not reflect this.
All around our state, concerned citizens are attempting to put an end to partisan gerrymandering, and our own Clinton County is leading the way.
I do not want the map gerrymandered in favor of any particular party or group. I believe congressional districts should be determined with no partisan bias, and I believe there are nonpartisan methods that can be used to draw boundaries resulting in fair districts within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as methods that can be used to measure their fairness.