The topic of redistricting reform is once again coming to the fore in Pennsylvania.
State Sens. Tom Killion, R-Middletown Township, and Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem, are sponsoring a pair of bills that would rethink the way the state redraws its internal political boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census.
The long-simmering issue came to a boil in 2018 when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s Congressional maps, saying that the districts drawn in 2011 by a Republican-controlled Legislature were an unconstitutional gerrymander – meaning that the Republican Party was given a structural advantage regardless of voter intent.
The court directed the state to draw up new maps in a matter of a few weeks, a task that proved impossible when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders declined to even attempt to find a common solution. After lawsuits by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati failed to overturn the court’s decision, the 2018 election went forward with maps imposed by the courts. That election saw Democrats go from a distinct minority in the state’s Congressional delegation to a 9-9 tie with Republicans afterward.
Boscola has long been an advocate of redistricting reform, and her legislation would amend the state constitution to establish an independent redistricting commission to draw the boundaries of state Senate and House of Representatives districts and U.S. Congressional districts.
“For our government to work as it is intended, it must contain checks and balances,” Boscola wrote in a memo to her colleagues in the state Senate. “Yet our state’s current system empowers lawmakers to draw the very districts that they represent. This joint resolution provides for a Redistricting Commission that is solely comprised of independent citizens. Individuals that apply to serve would go through a process for appointment that includes a series of random selections by lot.”
Boscola’s citizen commission would have four members each from the state’s two leading political parties and three who are independents or members of minor parties. The commission would draw up maps and hold public hearings, and it would take a 7-vote majority of the 11-person commission to approve the map. If a majority can't agree, the bill proposes "process of elimination voting" to come to a decision.
As a constitutional amendment, the proposal will have to be passed by lawmakers during one session of the Legislature, then pass again during the following two-year session, unamended. It would then go to voters for final approval, and only then could it go into effect. Given that timeline, it could not go into effect in time for the redistricting following the 2020 census.
Killion’s proposal, on the other hand, is similar to Boscola’s, but it doesn’t amend the constitution and simply needs to pass like any other law and earn the governor’s signature to go into effect.
“My legislation has 13 co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, and enjoys broad public support,” Killion said in a news release Monday. “I’m hopeful we can move this bill and get this done in time for the 2021 congressional reapportionment.”