Earlier this year, Pennsylvania decided it had enough of the 2011 congressional map that determined voter districts.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited partisan gerrymandering, the process of drawing district boundaries to favor one political party over another, as the culprit.
“At some level, gerrymandering is in the eye of the beholder. You don’t like the way the district is drawn, it’s gerrymandered. You like the way the district is drawn, it’s fair and balanced,” said professor of political science Lonce Bailey.
The 2011 map was brought to light after Pennsylvania voters, led by the League of Women Voters, sued last year and demanded the map be redrawn. The courts agreed, but could not agree on a new map, so they drew their own. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but they declined to hear it and turned it back over to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court where their decision stands.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the maps were shown to discriminate against Democrats in Pennsylvania. Experts said the map was an “extreme outlier,” benefitting Republicans in all three elections held under the 2011 map; Republicans still held 13 of 18 house seats in each election.
“Most would have considered Pennsylvania to be the worst gerrymandered state in the country,” Bailey said. He added that although there are almost one million more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans, congressional seats were still dominated by Republicans.
Pennsylvania’s registered voter citizens, including SU students, can look at this process and relate to it as it pertains to representative connection and perpetuating a healthy democracy.
“We select representatives who represent us. As long as we feel that representatives are listening to us, that our vote matters to them, and there’s some connection between the person we’re sending to DC and what our wishes are, that’s healthy for a democracy,” Bailey said.
What is not healthy for a democracy, he adds, is lack of competition.
“Over gerrymandered districts tend to be non-competitive because nobody feels like they can change the outcome of the game,” Bailey said. “Students think their votes don’t matter, people don’t run for office, we don’t have competitive elections. That’s the problem.”
Many expect a shift in Pennsylvania partisanship with the implementation of the new map for the midterm elections later this year. Locally, Bailey said we can expect to see changes “in terms of who’s going to represent us from here and who we’re clustered with,” but not to expect any major changes locally as part of a heavily Republican district.
For Pennsylvania overall, Bailey expects to see Democrats take over some congressional seats and reflect a more balanced state government. Since congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years following the federal census, the new map will be evaluated again in 2020 and could be replaced or adopted for future use.
“Who knows where it’ll all go. The Supreme Court can go any number of directions, and that’s the thing to keep an eye on right now,” he said.