Resolution passed to support effort against gerrymandering in Hampton Township
Monday, December 2, 2019 | 12:01 AM
A resolution was passed to support an independent legislative and congressional redistricting commission in Pennsylvania at the most recent Hampton Township council meeting.
Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan coalition of citizens and volunteers campaigning against the practice of gerrymandering, approached Hampton Council in October to support a resolution to stop it.
“Gerrymandering is drawing district boundaries to benefit a party or candidate,” said Suzanne Broughton of Fair Districts PA, who presented the proposal to council.
State law allows legislators to handle redistricting or changing the lines of voting districts every 10 years after the census to reflect population changes. The purpose of redistricts is to ensure there’s a fair amount of voters in a voting district.
The group argues it’s not how many people are in a district, but more about how the lines are drawn and who is the district. A politician can draw a line to where they know they’ll win the vote based on what they believe are the voting habits of those residents.
Fair Districts PA said allowing politicians to draw their own lines is a conflict of interest, because they can draw lines to benefit their interests.
Broughton said the results are that “voters have little or no choice and voter turnout declines.”
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision found that the 2011 congressional district map violated the state constitution. The court redrew the districts and issued a new map, according to the Fair Districts website.
However, redistricting will happen again after the 2020 Census, and the new map could also be gerrymandered.
Broughton said technology utilized by parties can use “big data” to get the kinds of voters they want. Also, she said that redrawing and planning for redistricting is done behind closed doors by legislators.
“We would like a much more open process,” she said.
Specifically, they argue that “they can and do draw whatever boundaries will maximize their influence, minimize their accountability, and keep their seats in office secure,” per fairdistrictspa.com.
A primary goal is to create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission, said Broughton, of Hampton Township. They are seeking support from municipalities.
They are just seeking support for the cause, not any specific bills. Currently, there are two separate bills related to the topic, House Bills 22 and 23.
Broughton said timing is of the essence because the process of preparing a bill and entering them for vote can take a while. She said they’ll be lucky to get one passed in February, but hopefully prior to the primary.
Other important issues include using technology to ensure data is only what should be allowed, such as population statistics only and lines of a municipality, Brougton.
The goals include getting the planning “out from behind closed doors;” have a website where drafts of maps are available; meeting minutes; public hearing on a set of draft maps; and public comment opportunities, said Broughton.
Richard Haverlack of Hampton Township made a public comment at the meeting urging the council to pass the resolution. He said the founding fathers would have probably put something into law if they foresaw the gerrymandering problems.
“It’s just an immoral practice,” he said.
The resolution approved by council states that residents and voters “deserve a fair, fully transparent, impartial and depoliticized process of the decennial drawing of state legislature and congressional districts of near equal population.”
The public can sign a petition on fairdistrictspa.com.