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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: January 12, 2017 02:06 PM
From: Senator Daylin Leach
To: All Senate members
Subject: Redistricting Reform
I will shortly be re-introducing legislation to reform the way we do redistricting in Pennsylvania. The purpose of the legislation is to reduce the opportunity for gerrymandering and to increase the possibility of again having competitive elections in our Commonwealth.

As you know, gerrymandering has always been with us, however with the advent of computers capable of predicting party performance down to the block, and with the increasingly brazen gerrymandering people in both parties are engaging in across the country, we have reached a point in America where our Democracy is becoming increasingly meaningless.

Nationally, out of 435 Congressional seats, 400 seats are considered completely non-competitive. The incumbent has either no challenge whatsoever, or only a token opponent who is unable to raise money or otherwise run a meaningful campaign.

In Pennsylvania, out of 203 State House seats, fewer that 10 are considered truly in play in any given cycle. The re-election rate exceeds 98% in both bodies. Over 90% of our citizens live in districts where their votes for the State House and Senate and the US Congress will never matter. Voters no longer choose their legislators, the politicians who draw the lines do. Ironically, because you cannot gerrymander an entire state, the US Senate is still relatively competitive.

My bill has some new ideas, and is inspired somewhat by legislation passed in Iowa. Iowa has removed politics from its redistricting process. As a result 4 out of 5 congressional seats in Iowa are competitive. That is more competitive seats than there are in New York, Illinois and California combined! Essentially, my bill has the following components:

  • All redistricting (both state and federal) would initially be proposed by a commission consisting of 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans appointed by the caucus leaders, and one registered Independent who is appointed by the other 8 members.

  • The Commission would draft a redistricting plan, with a super-majority of 7 of the 9 members needed to pass any plan.

  • All deliberations and discussion leading up to the draft would be required to be held in public. No private discussions would be legal.

  • The law would forbid any political considerations including any advantage or disadvantage the plan would render to any party, incumbent or challenger.

  • The draft, once completed, would be submitted to the legislature. The legislature would vote it up or down, but no amendments would be permitted.

  • If the legislature passes the first draft, fine. If the legislature rejects the first draft, it would send the draft back to The Commission with comments and objections.

  • The Commission would then draft a second plan.

  • If the legislature rejected the second plan, which it would also have to consider without amendments then the State Supreme Court would impose one of the two plans, to the extent that the one imposed was not unconstitutional.

  • The only other constraint on the consideration of the drafts by The Commission would be that all districts must meet a specific definition of “compact and contiguous”. The definition would contain a “compactness measurement” which essentially puts a dot in the geographic center of the district, draws a circle around the district and requires that the district fill in 15% of that circle. This would eliminate districts that look like snakes and salamanders.

If these reforms are enacted, incumbents will still have a huge advantage over their challengers. They would still be in the media much more frequently; they would still be doing constituent service and fighting for grant money for their district. However, the voters would justifiably have more confidence that the system wasn’t completely rigged from the beginning. Also, having an incumbent re-election rate at least somewhat below that of the Soviet Politburo would inject some much-needed accountability into the system.

If you have questions about this legislation, please contact my Legislative Director, Jon Tew at jtew@pasenate.com or 610-768-4200.

Introduced as SB243