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Gerrymandering wreaks havoc with electoral politics

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Michael Vigilante

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Did you pick your elected representative, as was intended, or did they pick you?

The topic of gerrymandering, or the redrawing of district lines to favor one political party, has been quietly wreaking havoc on our electoral process, at both the federal and state level, for decades.

After the 2010 census, when the last round of redistricting occurred, Pennsylvania has been widely purveyed as one of the most highly gerrymandered states in the nation. Moreover, Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, Delaware County, according to some analysts, ranks among the nations most “rigged” districts.

The previous 7th district, before redistricting in 2010, was made up of 52.8 percent Democratic and 47.2 percent Republican voters. However, after the new lines were drawn, the district is now made up of 48.2 percent Democratic and 51.8 percent Republican.

A district that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama and Joe Sestak for President and Representative in 2008, respectively, has not seen a close election since, allowing Congressmen Pat Meehan to enjoy relatively uncontested election results.

That is not to say that this is strictly a Pennsylvania issue, however. Democrats have lost upwards of 1,000 seats in State Legislatures nationwide since 2009, and that number will only continue to grow unless the responsibility of drawing district lines is handed over to an independent, bi-partisan commission.

But achieving this transparency may prove more difficult than anticipated. The roots of gerrymandering date back over 200 years in this country, to the former Governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry.

Gerry signed into law a piece of legislation that divided the legislative districts in his state to provide a more favorable result in his next election. One district was so overtly tampered and misshapen that it resembled a salamander. Thus, the term gerrymandering was born.

Today, computers and algorithms are used to find the most optimal lines to benefit the party in power, but these manufactured, physical lines are no less absurd.

Illinois fourth district may be the most laughably ludicrous example of gerrymandering in the country. It’s essentially two already heavily gerrymandered districts held together by a thin sliver of land, in this case, a median strip along Interstate 294.

In February, Pennsylvania State Senators Lisa Boscola and Mario Scavello introduced a piece of bipartisan legislation aimed at establishing an independent commission to draw up Pennsylvania’s legislative maps.

“We need an independent system where voters select their leaders, not the other way around,” said Senator Boscola, “the current process invites gerrymandering, robs citizens of competitive races, and spurs the kind of polarization that has stymied legislative work in both Washington D.C. and Harrisburg.”

Senate Bill 22 would provide an 11-person commission comprised of four individuals from the largest political party, four from the second largest, and three with no major party affiliation. The idea being that it would take a majority of seven votes to win redistricting approval.

Numerous organizations, including Fair Districts PA and Common Cause of PA, have endorsed the proposed bill, but speed is crucial, something government isn’t necessarily proficient in, as the next round of redistricting is set to begin in 2020.

“I believe gerrymandering is the single greatest obstacle to compromise and consensus building in the congress,” said William Pezza, a history and politics professor at Bucks as well as a former Bristol Borough councilman and president, “I support the drawing of districts by non-partisan commissions instead of the state legislatures. However, short of a constitutional amendment, I don’t see partisan legislatures ever moving in that direction aside from a handful of exceptions.”

Former President Barack Obama took the stage at the University of Chicago last Monday where he outlined his post-presidency crusade to fight gerrymandering and the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments this spring about political gerrymandering and voting rights.

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The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College
Gerrymandering wreaks havoc with electoral politics