SB 22 Won’t Stop Gerrymandering -- In fact it Enshrines it.
When elected officials draw electoral maps, they use the process to protect themselves, and their self-interest comes before competitiveness, community cohesion, racial equity, or any other priority of the public interest. Consequently, legislative delegations to state and federal office do not reflect the demographics or policy preferences of the electorate. When politicians choose their voters, instead of the reverse, it’s a democratic injustice that voters vividly understand.
In 2021, Pennsylvania is set to redraw its electoral maps in the wake of the census. SB 22 is our Senate’s idea of how new maps should be drawn. While SB 22 appears to set up an unbiased commission to draw districts, a closer read reveals that the commission is anything but independent. The Senate wants to create a commission appointed by elected officials, and gives legislature final say on whether or not to approve the maps. In other words, elected officials would still control the process, so elected officials would still use the process to advance their position.
In the last 18 months, there has a been a groundswell of public support in Pennsylvania for a process that puts people and basic democratic fairness first. The people, looking for answers as to why Harrisburg and Washington are so far out of touch with their priorities, have realized districts were designed to make democratic change nearly impossible. People have felt the power of their vote dwindle often to the point of irrelevance, and that has sparked a justified and palpable sense of outrage.
One attempt at reform, HB 722, was gutted by the chairman of the House State Government Committee, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. Metcalfe, for his own part, is remarkably candid in his desire to impose his will on the entire commonwealth, regardless of the democratic will of the people.
Similarly, the original version of SB22 would have created an independent Citizens Commission, with everyday Pennsylvanians randomly selected, an even number from both major parties, and three independent members, to oversee and approve redistricting.This bill was undoubtedly submitted with the highest democratic ideals in mind. But the Senate dramatically amended it, and in its present iteration, the bill places the power of appointments and approval with the legislature -- and makes this process a part of our very Constitution.
Advocates of reform should not be placated. Even with nearly universal public support, passing meaningful redistricting reform is a tall order because it requires the majority of legislators to put the ideals of democracy and the value of each vote and voter ahead of their own self-preservation. Advocates for reform deserve credit and gratitude for educating and mobilizing people toward a critical mass, and creating the opportunity to create a more democratic system. However, if in this moment of critical mass that opportunity is squandered on a change to the Constitution that enshrines the current perverse relationship of power between officials and voters, the efforts that originated in meaningful reform will manifest in reinforcing the problem until the next critical mass is built, perhaps for generations to come. Constitutional amendments are nearly irrevocable, so a flawed proposal will codify the problem it hopes to address.
We, the undersigned, oppose Senate Bill 22 as amended and continue to demand redistricting reform that puts the will of voters and equity ahead of the self-preservation of incumbents. We urge the legislature to move quickly to pass a bill that creates a truly independent commission. We must give voters the power to choose their legislators, not the other way around.