The power of one

Draw the Lines is inspired in part by Amanda Holt, a young piano teacher from outside Allentown, PA. As she was helping friends research candidates before the 2010 election, Amanda was alarmed that her friends, who lived in the same small town, were voting in different legislative districts than she was. She did some research and was troubled by all of the nonsensical district boundaries that unnecessarily cleaved towns and counties. Amanda was sure she could do better, using only her love of puzzles and an Excel spreadsheet. She set out to do just that, as she detailed in her blog.

The Pennsylvania State Constitution states that “Unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.” Amanda followed this guideline when creating her own maps, which she presented in testimony to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission during its public comment period. She was convinced that previous mappers had simply missed this mandate in the constitution, and 2011 maps would contain far fewer jurisdictional splits now that she had alerted them to the problem.

She was dismayed to find that the LRC ignored her testimony by producing maps with even more jurisdictional splits than before. So Amanda called the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, asking how to file suit. She gained support from several law firms, including the Public Interest Law Center, and sued the LRC for unconstitutional state legislative maps. In January 2012, the PA State Supreme Court sided with her arguments, throwing out the original politician-drawn legislative maps and requiring the Legislative Reapportionment Commission back to the drawing board.

The LRC later passed maps that, although still heavily gerrymandered, contained fewer jurisdictional splits than their originals. For her efforts, Amanda was recognized as “Citizen of Year” by several media outlets.

If one person can successfully make their voice heard, imagine what an army of engaged students and voters can achieve. DTL aims to nurture 10,000 Amanda Holts across the Commonwealth.

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