Madden: Redistricting and reapportionment are politically stressful, but so what? Fairness matters more

Regardless of party affiliation or whether you’re a state or federal lawmaker, reapportionment and redistricting can be frustrating.

States redraw political district lines every 10 years after each U.S. census to meet federal standards requiring equal populations without discriminating based on race or ethnicity. For state legislative and senatorial districts, the process is called reapportionment; for congressional districts, it is redistricting.

For state representatives like me, state senators, and U.S. congresspeople, reapportionment and redistricting mean uncertainty about how new boundaries will be redrawn and how they will impact future elections.

Understandably, it can be a stressful process.

This being my first time through it and representing a portion of the politically diverse Monroe County, of course I’ve been anxious and curious about what the final maps will reveal.

But then I quickly remember this isn’t about me. Nor is it about any of my colleagues in the PA General Assembly or those who represent our commonwealth in Washington, D.C.

This isn’t even about the Democratic party or the Republican party.

Reapportionment and redistricting are – and always should be – about trying to keep things fair in terms of population and representation in state and federal lawmaking.

Pennsylvania has earned the label as a “battleground state” because statewide elections are so often competitive. That goes for presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial and row office elections, with both parties claiming major victories over the last decade or so.

The December 2020 voter registration statistics for our state show 46.46% registered Democratic, 39.06% registered Republican, and 14.48% as other or unaffiliated.

While registration numbers don’t directly dictate voting outcomes, if nothing else, these numbers prove the decades of dysfunction in state legislature representation.

In 23 of the last 27 years, the state GOP has controlled the legislature. Presently, Republicans hold a 112-89 advantage in the House (with two vacancies), and a 28-20 edge in the Senate (with one independent and one vacancy).

Statistically matched up against the registration numbers and statewide election results, that simply doesn’t make sense.

If lines were drawn fairly, no party in our commonwealth – not the Democrats, not the Republicans – should ever wield full control for such significant chunks of time.

It doesn’t add up … until you consider Pennsylvania ranks ridiculously high on almost every “most gerrymandered states” list.

For House Republicans, the prospect of losing their significantly gerrymandered majority in favor of fairer lines that, by the way, still project to produce a GOP majority, has created faux outrage that’s been deafening.

Their complaints and reactive responses – like introducing the constitutionally absurd H.B. 2207 from Rep. Seth Grove, Republican chair of the State Government Committee on which I serve – are decidedly not calls for fairness.

They’re calls for either maintaining the status quo or, worse, tilting the unbalanced power even further in their direction.

These actions and reactions do nothing to serve the citizenry of Pennsylvania. Instead, the state GOP proves again and again, in its words and in the legislative process it controls, it possesses a very narrow view of how the real world works.

As a legislative body, we aren’t adequately addressing the needs of a health care industry and individual workers fried by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We’re barely tackling grossly unequal school funding. We haven’t raised the minimum wage in more than a decade. We’re not acting in ways that benefit local businesses or attract innovation and entrepreneurs. We won’t even consider legislation to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer. And, for reasons I simply cannot comprehend, we refuse to issue protections from discrimination for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians.

And rather than buckle down and work on behalf of all of our residents – including those who might not live in their current districts – the PA GOP simply wants to keep rigging the system to maintain power.

So, while I understand the curiosity about how reapportionment and redistricting will ultimately change the political landscape of PA for the next decade, and I empathize with colleagues from both sides of the aisle who are distracted by what it means for them individually, I must end by issuing another reminder:

This isn’t about us as elected officials. This isn’t about party. This isn’t even about the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, with its bipartisan makeup and nonpartisan appointed chairman.

It’s about doing what’s right for Pennsylvanians by putting an end to nonsensical gerrymandering and focusing on fair and equal representation.

Find a published version of the op/ed via this link from the Pocono Record.