On August 29, the bipartisan PA Redistricting Reform Commission released a final report with recommendations to improve the process of creating legislative district boundaries. Gov. Wolf signed an executive order last year creating the Commission to explore ways Pennsylvania could curb gerrymandering and make redistricting fairer and nonpartisan.
“This report is a product of the most extensive public conversation ever held with Pennsylvania citizens about the issue of redistricting,” said David Thornburgh, commission chairman and president and CEO of the nonprofit Committee of Seventy. “What did we hear? That Pennsylvanians are hungry for change, and for a less partisan, more transparent, and more responsive process for drawing election maps. My fellow Commissioners are proud of our contribution and trust it offers useful guidance to the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly as they take up this issue later this fall.”
The commission is recommending the creation of an 11-member citizens commission to develop redistricting maps that would be submitted to legislators for approval. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders would each appoint five members, including two from the opposing political party.
The governor would appoint the 11th member, a non-voting chairperson.
To further reduce partisanship on the commission, anyone who has held an elected federal, state or judicial office, or has been employed in support of such a public official, or has registered as a lobbyist, would be ineligible to be a Commission member.
Under this recommended model, the commission would hold public meetings and solicit online feedback across the Commonwealth to gather comments before creating five maps that comply with the state constitution and have boundaries that are compact, contiguous and minimize division of counties and municipalities.
The maps must also adequately reflect the interests of racial minorities.
The commission would then hold a second round of public meetings to get comments on the maps and make the data available to the public.
Three maps would be provided to the legislature or a bipartisan body like the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which would choose one map without changes.
The bipartisan 13-member commission included former Congressman Charlie Dent, Dr. Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State University; Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez, Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs; Susan Carty, President, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania; Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County Executive; Amanda Holt, Lehigh County Commissioner; Rev. Robert Johnson, Tindley Temple United Methodist Church; Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President, Urban Affairs Coalition; Dr. Wesley Pegden, Carnegie Mellon University; State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa; State House Minority Leader Frank Dermody; and Jessica Myers, Department of State.
“It was an honor to participate in this 9-month redistricting journey with my fellow Pennsylvanians — hearing their invaluable insights, observing efforts in other states, and engaging in spirited discussions,” said Amanda Holt, Lehigh County Commissioner. “Commission members were committed to finding consensus on this complex topic filled with divergent viewpoints. Through our collaborative efforts, the report illustrates one path toward more defined and measurable criteria, more transparency, and less political influence.”
The Commission held nine public meetings in Altoona, Bethlehem, Erie, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Wilkes-Barre, and Williamsport. More than 600 people attended the evening meetings and an additional 1,000 comments were submitted online.
The Commission also reviewed the redistricting process in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Utah, which have taken steps to reduce partisanship in redistricting.
Legislation proposed in Pennsylvania was also considered.
Pennsylvania’s next redistricting process will occur in 2021, following the 2020 census.