On April 2018, over 700 Fair Districts PA supporters and allies packed the capitol rotunda in Harrisburg to ask our state legislature to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania by creating an independent citizens redistricting commission. Supported bills died two months later, first hijacked, and then buried by a mountain of amendments.
Since then, a growing community of determined volunteers have built momentum to change Pennsylvania’s secretive, partisan redistricting processes. Volunteer speakers have shared maps and information with more than 31,000 people at almost 900 events. Hundreds of volunteers have collected over 100,000 petition signatures at polling places, festivals and online. Volunteers have promoted resolutions of support for an independent commission, yielding 380 resolutions from 22 county commissions and hundreds of municipalities in all parts of the state.
For the past two sessions, Fair Districts PA-supported legislation has enjoyed more cosponsors than any other bills, and FDPA volunteers have logged hundreds of visits with legislators, plus thousands of calls, emails and postcards.
We had planned to gather in Harrisburg on March 23 to ask, again, for fair districts and a fair redistricting process. We had 14 buses scheduled to arrive from all corners of the state and we expected an even larger turnout than we saw in 2018. As coronavirus concerns unfolded, that event was downsized, then canceled. Plans for a virtual rally were also set aside in light of the emerging crisis.
While rallies, informational events and other outreach activities have been put on hold, the underlying concern remains: Pennsylvania voters want fair districts. It’s a simple concept and a reasonable request. Some of our volunteers have visited Harrisburg every decade since 1990, asking that our legislators respect constitutional requirements to draw compact, contiguous districts and limit divisions of counties, cities, townships and wards. In every decade since 1990, disregard for those constitutional requirements has resulted in litigation, with some cases going as far as the Supreme Court.
We understand the challenges facing our legislators during this difficult crisis and wish them well as they navigate the complexities ahead. We understand as well the challenges facing our electoral system: the concerns about social distancing, election machines, polling place staffing. And we understand the importance of a complete census count, difficult in the best of times, increasingly under threat in a time of great confusion.
In the days ahead, our Fair Districts PA team will be investing in every way we can in the common good of our commonwealth. We’ll be educating friends and neighbors about the census and sharing links to census, online voter registration and online applications for mail-in ballots.
We will also continue, as we’ve done for the past four years, encouraging attention to underlying systems, district maps, and legislative procedures. As we have since we started, we’ll be leveraging the creativity, experience and energy of our many volunteers to keep our movement growing strong while waiting for an opportunity to ask, again, for a fair redistricting process. Waiting another decade for fair maps or fair elections is not acceptable. Once the crisis has waned, the legislature must move quickly to enact redistricting reform legislation before this session ends.
As we all adjust to closures, social distancing and the daily uncertainties created by a global pandemic, we want to assure you that we will continue the work for fair redistricting. At the same time, we want to be respectful of the challenges facing our state Legislature as they seek to address immediate, unexpected health, policy and economic concerns.
In the days ahead, please stay engaged in the work of fair elections and fair districts:
Consider entering the Draw the Lines competition. It takes some time, but there’s much to be learned from drawing maps and balancing criteria. Know some educators? Encourage them to check out the educator resources provided by Draw the Lines.