What the mid-terms meant for reform in PA

Chris Satullo| November 15th, 2018

Now that the results from Pennsylvania’s mid-term vote are in, will the recent enthusiasm for reforming how the state draws its election maps fade?

That view stems from a suspicion that much of the energy behind the gerrymandering reform movement in our state came from aggrieved Democrats who wanted to send more than five of their number to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sure enough, the new congressional map ordered by the state Supreme Court in February made a difference.

 In last week’s election, the state’s 18 seats split down the middle, nine Democrats, nine Republicans. That contrasts with the prior 13-5 Republican advantage that persisted after the gerrymander of 2011.  To do the math for you, thanks in part to the new map, Democrats picked up four seats in the state’s congressional delegation this year.

So, for anyone whose agitation about gerrymandering stemmed from blue-tinged sour grapes after the 2016 election, the temptation now might be to think “mission accomplished.”

Don't draw the wrong conclusion

But at Draw the Lines PA, we completely reject that thinking.

We know that the effort to reform redistricting can't be be just about red vs. blue.  The real point of reform is to make the process more fair and more voter-driven.  It’s about who gets to be the boss of the job interviews known as elections. It’s about who’s in the room when the vital lines get drawn vs. who’s not in the room.

Last time in Harrisburg, only a handful of legislative leaders and political operatives had the codes to get into the (literally) locked room where gerrymanders were brewed.

Who was left outside?  The rest of Pennsylvania’s 12.7 million residents, the people who should actually run the electoral job interview. 

So, sure, the new, court-ordered congressional map seems to have produced, this time, a congressional delegation that more accurately reflects how Pennsylvanians voted.

Finding cures, not more Band-Aids 

But recognize this: That much-ballyhooed court ruling just fixed one bad map. It doesn’t fix the bad process that has churned out bad maps and is destined to do so again (no matter which party holds the pen) if we don’t do something to fix it.  

What’s more, the new map has a short shelf life.  It will be around for just one more election, in 2020. After that, the U.S. Census is almost guaranteed to produce a reapportionment of Congress in which Pennsylvania will lose at least one seat, maybe more.

A new map will have to be drawn – and if we don’t change the rules, political operatives will again have an outsized say in how the lines get drawn.

 Also, be clear on this: The court ruling this year did not address at all the process for drawing state legislative maps, the ones by which we elect 50 state senators and 203 state representatives, the people who determine things like education funding, gas taxes and prison policy.

The job of fixing redistricting is far from done and, as the clock ticks down toward the 2020 Census and the map-drawing that will follow it, the task of defining, explaining and advocating for reform remains as urgent as ever.

Urgent, not hopeless.  During these same midterms, other states have shown what’s possible when voters become aware and energized about how gerrymandering has betrayed democracy in their states. Voters in Michigan, Missouri and Colorado approved ballot questions calling for a much larger voter role in map-making.  A similar measure received approval for Ohio voters in the spring, and a Utah ballot question just edged back over the 50 percent mark as a slow-moving vote count proceeds in that state.