Pennsylvania voters do not trust legislators to redraw congressional and state district lines that are fair, panelists at a House State Government Committee hearing said Wednesday.
Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers have recently focused on the issue. Wolf created the Redistricting Reform Commission in November 2018, over the objections of Republican legislative leaders, and the commission released its report last month.
District maps from 2011 have been criticized for splitting counties into two districts and creating districts that would allow a party to have an advantage in elections.
The Redistricting Reform Commission held nine meetings across the state and conducted an online survey, said David Thornburgh, who chaired the commission.
“There’s a sense of frustration, sometimes outrage, sometimes just a sense of being dispirited about the way this turned out,” Thornburgh told the committee. “Some folks said it feels like there’s too much cheating going on in this process.”
The commission recommended the creation of an 11-member redistricting committee that would take the redrawing of district lines out of the hands of lawmakers. Senate Bill 22 also recommends an 11-member commission. The members would include four Democrats and four Republicans appointed by Senate and House majority/minority leaders and three independent members appointed by the governor.
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship but has not made it out of committee.
Thornburgh said there was an “overwhelming sentiment” for an independent commission among Pennsylvanians.
The commission heard from members of the California Citizens Redistricting Committee, formed in 2010 to redraw the state’s 2011 district lines. The packed room included members of Fair Districts PA, an advocacy group for redistricting reform.
Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, questioned the need for a change to the redistricting process, saying the legislators who redrew the lines 2011 are no longer in office.
“Why change the entire system?” Diamond asked. “Why not just count on the new people that are here to do a better job this time?
Carol Kuniholm, chairman of Fair Districts PA, said the issue has come up for the past three decades, but the questions have not been answered.
“So, the suggestion is that we would not say, ‘yeah right,’ you’re going to do a trustworthy job the next time around without any changes in the process? I’m sorry but trust, as you can see, is very much broken and it needs to be restored,” she said, pointing to the large crowd.
Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia, agreed that changes need to be made, calling the 2011 district map a “disgrace” and “an affront to democracy.”
“It’s good to see that the citizenry responded and I think in many ways it’s surprising to people to see that such a dry issue as redistricting has become such a passionate issue to so many people,” Boyle said.