Gerrymandering – A real problem in Pennsylvania

On January 17, 2018, our SSJ Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Committee hosted a presentation on gerrymandering.  Professor Donald Goldstein, a retired professor of Economics from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA spoke on how gerrymandering has affected the outcomes of elections in Pennsylvania and the efforts that are underway to assure that all redistricting power is given to an independent commission with no political ties.

Gerrymandering is the dividing of a state, county, etc. into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.  Dr. Goldstein spoke about the various methods of gerrymandering which occur.  They are the “Packing” method which concentrates voters of one party in a few districts as possible to reduce their influence in the remaining districts.  He also spoke about “Cracking” which splits a group and spreads its members among several districts where they become an irrelevant minority.  Both of these methods will give advantage to the one party.  Ideally, the “Sweatheart” gerrymander also known as the partisan handshake, appears to be the fairest form of districting. 

Gerrymandering is more prevalent in Pennsylvania than in nearly any other state, according to a 2016 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of using partisan gerrymandering to their advantage.  The digital age is partly to blame in that the district lines are drawn with the use of increasingly sophisticated data-analysis and mapping technologies.  How the lines are drawn and by whom can have a significant impact on the outcome of elections and the makeup of the House of Representatives.

Erie County is an example of gerrymandering.  Redistricting split the county into two districts – the 3rd District and the 5th District – which shifted the power centers further south, making it difficult for anyone from Erie to win the seats in state government. 

An effort is underway in Pennsylvania by Fair Districts PA to encourage lawmakers to change how state legislative districts and congressional districts are drawn.  Fair Districts PA is a nonpartisan, citizen-led, statewide coalition working to create a process for redistricting that is transparent, impartial and fair.  They have joined thousands of citizens from across the state in asking legislators to pass a constitutional amendment that would reform the redistricting process by the end of the current legislative session in June.  To sign the petition encouraging our legislators to enact bills to establish an independent commission to draw up Pennsylvania’s congressional and state legislative district maps, click here.