Gerrymandering Kills Representative Democracy

Posted by By at 24 March, at 10 : 45 AM Print

by A. Sniveling Malcontent

Recently Harrisburg denizens heard the early sounds of discontent about the way legislative and Congressional districts are drawn every 10 years after the national census. Our current system, approved by voters following the 1967 Constitutional Convention, has proven to be a disservice to the Commonwealth, to put it mildly.

Why?

Start with the ridiculous, conspicuous conflict of interest that allows lawmakers to decide the composition of their own districts. It’s doomed to failure on its face, rather like allowing criminals to decide whom they’re going to arrest, try, and convict in a court of law.

The result is a legislature that is so secure in its protection from voters that they have no reason to cooperate with the executive branch or heed the orders of the judicial branch. That is the real reason for Pennsylvania’s interminable budget impasse: Lawmakers don’t have to bargain in good faith – or at all – in order to keep their highly paid, under-performing sinecures.

Thanks to gerrymandering, it has become impossible for citizens to hold either their own lawmakers or the General Assembly as a whole accountable. Despite lofty rhetoric about the virtues of competition, our legislators simply don’t care what most Pennsylvania citizens want because they don’t have to care. They have insulated themselves against competition.

In 2016, as in 2014, a near majority of legislative “elections” have already been determined even before the first votes are cast. There are 228 legislative districts where elections will take place – half of the 50 Senate districts (the odd-numbered districts) and all 203 House districts.

In the primary election on April 26, here are the numbers of actual contests:

  • Districts with competition in both parties: 4 ( 1.7%)
  • Districts with competition in only one party: 51  (22.4%)
  • Districts with no competition in either party: 173  (75.9%)

In the general election on November 8, it gets worse:

  • Districts with no competition: 121 (53.1%)

In fact, there are “free-riders” in 96 districts – 42.1%. These are “elections” in which there is just one name on the ballot ensuring absolutely no competition in either the primary or the general election.

There is only one way to solve this problem, and only one person who can make it happen. Gov. Tom Wolf must lead a relentless public campaign to give voters the choice of an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission in the form of an amendment to our Constitution. Neither political party, and certainly not lawmakers themselves, should control this process that now is so destructive to the wellbeing of the Commonwealth and its people.

As events of the past year have proven, Wolf has nothing to lose. Strong, unyielding leadership on this issue could give him and all future governors everything to gain.

Following are district numbers for the various “contests” in 2016. Read them and weep.

True Election: Districts where there is competition in both parties in the primary (4)

Senate:  15, 35

House:  49, 183

Free Ride: Districts with no competition in either the primary or the general (96)

Senate:  7, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 33, 39, 43, 45, 47

House:  4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 36, 42, 44, 45, 47, 54, 56, 59, 60, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 77, 78, 80, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 90, 93, 94, 98, 99, 105, 108, 109, 110, 117, 121, 123, 124, 125, 126, 128, 129, 130, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 142, 144, 160, 163, 169, 173, 174, 176, 179, 180, 184, 185, 191, 193, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 203

Primary = General: Districts with competition in one party and no candidates in the other party, giving the winner of the primary a free ride in the general. (25)

Senate:  1, 3, 31

House:  19, 20, 22, 24, 37, 65, 79, 87, 92, 103, 106, 111, 131, 175, 181, 182, 186, 188, 190, 192, 195, 202

Two Parties, One Primary: competition in one party but not both in the primary (26)

Senate:  13

House:  2, 6, 10, 12, 15, 31, 46, 52, 58, 72, 81, 91, 101, 102, 104, 107, 112, 115, 127, 150, 164, 166, 170, 194, 200

No Primary: Districts where there is competition in the general but not the primary (77)

Senate:  5, 9, 11, 17, 19, 37, 41, 49

House:  1, 3, 13, 17, 25, 30, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 48, 50, 51, 53, 55, 57, 61, 62, 70, 71, 73, 74, 75, 76, 88, 89, 95, 96, 97, 100, 113, 114, 116, 118, 119, 120, 122, 132, 133, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 161, 162, 165, 167, 168, 171, 172, 177, 178, 187, 189

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