During 15 years as a reporter in the Pennsylvania state Capitol I covered two cycles of legislative reapportionment. This is my Citizen Story.
In 2001, we mused about the “garret” boys, the Republican-majority appointed map nerds who repaired to the attic of the Capitol building to draw their partisan election district maps. Democrats fumed and sued over the results, dragon shaped districts. We dutifully, if not enthusiastically, covered the maelstrom. In the end, the party in power prevailed.
The landscaped changed dramatically - as did my attitude toward redistricting - in 2011 when a mild-mannered music teacher from Lehigh County, sensing something was amiss in an oddly drawn state house district, set about drawing her own map.
With a stack of reference books, maps and pencils, Amanda Holt redrew 203 state House districts. She was invited to testify before legislative committee then was ignored. So, she sued.
Her map would serve as the foundation of the state Supreme Court ruling against the legislative commission. Republican Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille called her map powerful evidence that the Republicans had not tried hard enough to avoid municipal splits.
Holt quickly became a folk hero to fair map warriors and a thorn in the side to Republicans (even though she herself is one). In a different year it might have been the majority Democrats who bristled at Holt’s intrusion into their process. She had upset the partisan status quo.
Holt moved a mountain and proved that with the right tools the average citizen can level the electoral playing field.
Draw the Lines takes that concept and runs with it. The project is a natural extension of Holt’s work, aided by today's availability of sophisticated software and a computer mouse.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Draw the Lines, a critical civic engagement project that has the power to reach voters – and future voters - and inspire them to make a difference.
I think of myself a circuit rider for democracy. Classroom by classroom, student by student, we are empowering citizen mapmakers to slay the gerrymander.