Monday, November 10, 2008

Plan Now for Republican Control of the Pennsylvania Legislature

As you consider redistricting, I would suggest you first ask yourselves: what are your goals in redistricting reform? Do you wish to have districts with as equal population as possible without any consideration for the result? This will have the likely result that the party that does the best in statewide legislative votes will be the majority party in the legislature. Yet doing so is in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Do you wish to preserve the civil rights guarantee there be districts with strong majorities of racial minorities? If so, this has an immediate political result that these districts will likely tend to elect Democratic representatives. What do you then do with the other districts. If one creates criteria for some districts that they lean Democratic and remains blind to the rest of the districts, the likely result is Republican majority control of the legislature, even though they could (and usually have in the past) receive fewer votes statewide. The Democratic votes become bunched up in the racial minority districts. If one wishes to include criterion that keeps the Democratic Party competitive in obtaining a majority control of the legislature, one needs to recognize that redistricting is a political decision. The question then becomes, what is the best process for conducting redistricting. Many states place the legislature in control. Some states like Pennsylvania create independent commissions that allow for political input. Do you wish to keep the commission process, and if so, who do you believe should compose the commission and how should they operate?

There are some proposals that the process be given to the Legislative Reference Bureau. These are the non-partisan attorneys who draft the official language for all legislation for every legislator. They have officially stated they do not wish to be in charge of redistricting. They are attorneys and are not trained in redistricting. Plus, they are employees of the legislature and could fear repercussions from the people who need to trust their independence.

As a policy wonk, I don’t have any recommendations. I am only suggesting it may be useful that people frame the issue according to what they seek. Some groups demand an end to gerrymandering and insist districts be exact squares or even circles, which can’t be done under the legal requirement of one person, one vote. Some groups insist that communities should not be divided. This can be minimized, but is impossible to achieve. Whichever communities are split will scream the process is unfair, so the question becomes who decides and how they decide which communities will receive split districts. One should consider both the integrity of the process as well as the integrity of the result.


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