OUR OPINION: End Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

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A bipartisan duo, State Rep. David Parker (R-Monroe) and State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh), have taken up the cause of combatting rampant gerrymandering, an ill that infects most national and state elections and is crippling American governance at many levels.

They have introduced companion bills, HB 1835 and SB 484, to remove the legislative redistricting which takes place after every US census from the hands of the legislature that is affected. A nonpartisan body would handle this task instead, with specific rules to ward off finagles for political advantage.

Gerrymandering is a time-TESTed American political custom. It aims to influence elections by tinkering with the partisan balance of an election district, so that one party’s influence is overwhelming and the minority has no chance of selling a middle-of-the-road alternative.

But this stinks like never before in the 21st century, thanks to modern advances in computerized data-crunching. In 2016, machines can draw lines around preferred voter blocks with a mathematical precision unknown to Elbridge Gerry, the Massachusetts politico – and namesake of the term – who had his district drawn to re-elect him. (It didn’t; he lost the next election, although he later became James Madison’s vice president.)

Today’s Gerrys come much-better armed. As a result, they can draw arbitrary lines that ignore natural geographical and political communities in order to achieve a virtual lockdown on political power for a decade.

That’s not good for the USA in general, or for Pennsylvania particular. When elected officials are empowered to draw the districts that will get them re-elected, then they – not their voters – are in control of their own election.

It’s time to ditch this practice. Nay, bury it at a crossroads at midnight with a stake through its heart. Nothing good can ever come of gerrymandering. It has long been a cancer on the body politic – but a benign skin cancer that won’t kill you right away, if ever.

Today, gerrymandering has metastasized to the point that it is crippling our democracy. It spawns hacks who do not know how to deal productively with other viewpoints, because they never need to reach out to opposing votes as they pursue their agendas.

But at this juncture in American government – in Philadelphia, in Harrisburg and in Washington – we need people of various views who can work together to solve problems that face all of us.

In order to elect such representatives, we need districts that reflects a balance of views among all Americans. Legislators who live in swing districts have a powerful incentive to listen to all Americans. So we have a powerful incentive to create more swing districts. They can only help Pennsylvania move forward.

We’re all for Parker’s and Boscola’s legislation. The General Assembly will definitely have to fine-tune this measure and it may take more than a single term to get passed.

But this is the only healthy way forward for democracy in our time. The time when legislators are allowed to design their own seats must come to an end.

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