Our Fair Districts PA team was happy to hear of the joint hearing on redistricting scheduled for the Senate and House State Government Committees on February 24th. We hope it will be the first of several.
We are aware that some legislators have already predicted the delay in census data will require a delay in the 2022 primary election to as late as July. While that may turn out to be accurate, the possibility of a delayed primary does not mean everything should be put on hold until the data arrives. There is much that can and should be done in the interim to prepare for the mapping process in the fall.
In the last few years, public interest in the redistricting process has grown enormously and voters are anxious to participate in meaningful ways. There are several ways the State Government Committees can help to make that participation a reality. One thing voters will be looking for is a robust, user-friendly website with lots of information about the redistricting process and ways to participate, and with a portal allowing citizens to submit proposed maps for consideration by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) for legislative redistricting, and by your committees for congressional redistricting. Creating such a website is something that should already be underway, but we are not aware of any efforts to date.
Ten years ago, the LRC appointed the Legislative Data Processing Center as its webmaster and we assume the Center will perform a similar role in 2021. However, technology has evolved well beyond what was possible in 2011 and so have expectations of voters in terms of their desire to have meaningful input. The State Government Committees should demand nothing less and we respectfully request that you work with the LDPC to develop an accessible, best-in-class website over the next weeks and months as you await the census data.
We assume there will be a series of public hearings by the LRC as they develop the preliminary and final legislative redistricting plans. There is no reason why gathering public input needs to wait until it’s time to start drawing maps. The State Government Committees should consider holding multiple virtual hearings for participants from different regions of Pennsylvania to hear testimony about local communities and distinct populations that should be recognized when districts are drawn. The committees could also hear from experts about which mapping criteria are more likely to result in maps that meet constitutional requirements and other appropriate standards.
Fair Districts PA, the Committee of 70, League of Women Voters and other good government organizations are all supporting identical bills to be introduced shortly by Rep. Wendi Thomas (HB 22) and Senator Lisa Boscola (SB 222). This legislation — called the Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Act, or LACRA — is designed to add greater transparency, timely public hearings and clear mapping rules to the existing processes for both legislative and congressional redistricting. The bills are structured to conform to the timeline required by the PA Constitution, so their implementation would not be significantly affected by the delay in receipt of census data. In fact, the delay will provide more time for LACRA to be considered by the State Government Committees, amended if necessary, and passed in both chambers in plenty of time to put them into effect before the mapping process begins. We urge you to schedule these bills for review as soon as they are referred to your committees.
The US remains the only major democracy that allows legislators a deciding role in drawing their own district maps. Much has been written in recent years about the ways gerrymandering undermines public trust, fuels partisan division and removes incentive to collaborate on pressing problems. National good-government organizations have invested heavily in researching best practices for redistricting reform. While it is too late to implement an independent citizens redistricting commission here in Pennsylvania, it is not too late to put better rules in place and to begin now to ensure transparency and trust in the process.
In the past few years, thousands of Pennsylvanians have drawn maps themselves, using online tools. We now know it takes just hours to draw a fair, legal congressional map, and a few days for an experienced mapper to draw house and senate maps. Even with late receipt of census data, there will be ample time for a fair, transparent process if plans are put in place soon.
Designing a Transparent and Ethical Redistricting Process: A Guide to Ensuring that the Redistricting Process is Fair, Open, and Accessible, February 11, 2021, League of Women Voters of the United States and Campaign Legal Center