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Host: Scott LaMar

Over The Line?

Written by Rich Copeland - Producer, WITF's Smart Talk | Nov 13, 2017 8:00 PM

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On the Tuesday November 14th, 2017 edition of WITF's Smart Talk:

Pennsylvania was recently cited as the second most gerrymandered state in the country - meaning boundaries for Congressional districts were drawn to make it easier for one party to win Congressional elections.  In Pennsylvania's case, Republicans are in the majority in the General Assembly and drew the boundaries.  WITF has partnered with Penn Live and the Patriot-News on a new project reporting on re-districting.  It's called 'Over the Line?.'

The term 'gerrymandering' was coined by the Boston Gazette in 1812 for Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry who signed off on a bill that distorted the state's congressional district into twisted and disjointed shapes.  One of the most egregious examples left a district looking like a salamander - a 'gerrymander.'



Pennsylvania party leaders meet once every decade to redraw congressional districts based on population changes from census data and after Republicans won a massive majority in the statehouse in 2010, district boundaries were redrawn by a committee assembled by the state's Republican leadership.

Fifty percent of votes cast in the state during the 2012 mid-term election were by registered Democrats; that year Pennsylvania sent only five Democratic delegates to Congress while Republicans sent thirteen.  This disparity has voting rights advocates concerned that state Republicans may permanently wrestle control away from Democrats, resulting in uneven representation of the Commonwealth's citizens.

On Tuesday's Smart Talk, we discuss how Pennsylvania's congressional districts came to look like a Rorschach test, the effect on elections and policy and the impact on the citizenry with three reporters working on 'Over the Line?' -  WITF's Emily Previti and WHYY's Lindsay Lazarski and Wallace McKelvy, Statehouse reporter for Pennlive/Patriot News.


Emily Previti - WITF Keystone Crossroads corespondent / Lindsay Lazarski WHYY Keystone Crossroads corespondent / Wallace McKelvy, Statehouse reporter, Pennlive/Patriot News.


- End Gerrymandering by removing (or removing 99%) of human decision making.

Here is exactly how to do it. We get the population of each municipality. if the municipality has more than (for example) 2000, divide it into wards and precincts of less than 2000. (precincts don't need to be of equal population) (townships, boros, cities should be divided into precincts along clear lines of demarcation e.g Mountaintops, Rivers, Large Streams, Railroads, Interstate highways, wide 4-7 lane boulevards). Get a latitude and longitude for a spot near the center of each municipality or precinct. Again it does not need to be exact. Instead of lat and long, in Pa, it could be miles and feet (I would prefer metric) north of the Mason Dixon line (continued East intoDel and NJ) and distance East of the Ohio border (continued into Lake Erie).

Divide the municipalities (and precincts) so that half the population is east of a line, and half west. Then divide each half in half again. 2nd and subsequent lines can be north-south or east-west, depending on the orientation of the "rectangle". Seven levels of division and we have 128 legislative districts. Or you could have 192 legislative districts by dividing first in 3 areas than 6 subdivisions - or 160 districts 5 main districts of 32. than 5 more times.

It is more of a pain to do it with 203 districts (or any other prime number) but it is doable.

Same kind of logic with the state senate and the state's congressional districts. Congress, 18 districts, Divide the state in half, north south line would probably be near the main branch of the Susquehanna, then divide each into 3 near equally populated regions, then divide each into the three districts. Another way to do 18 congressional districts is put 2 full congressional districts in Philly, include the other 140,000 people in Delaware or Bucks county, then easily make 4 divisions for 16 districts.

Problems - natural barriers between municipalities, primarily rivers and mountains. I could see something odd like Millersburg being in a legislative district with every other municipality west of the Susquehanna. That could be tweaked or ignored. (or use the ferry or build a bridge.)  

The bigger problem is that many municipalities with several precinct being divided among several legislative districts. Well, I don't care because this method is fair and it is voter blind.

Pennsylvania is probably the easiest state in the East to divide this way. It is very close to rectangular, and it already has 2,500 municipalities.     - Rich

- One way to solve - Districts should be based  population equal and the ratio of the perimeter of the district to the area of the district should be as equal as possible                                                             - Blaine

- We have 18 reps. Make 3 large districts and allow each voter 6 votes. They can spend all 6 on one candidate if they wish. That would allow rural coalitions to form even if they are far apart.                                                - John, Harrisburg

- I've heard that the Pennsylvania Constitution says that municipalities should be mostly in the same legislative district, not divided up.  So it would seem that a county split so that people who live in the county are in 5 different legislative districts would be unconstitutional.  That should not be allowed to happen.  As an Adams County resident my congressional legislative district is gerrymandered to include parts of 5 different counties.                            - Mary, Gettysburg

One caller talked about the regional diversity of PA and the need to make sure urban, suburban and rural districts are fairly represented. That may be true, but I think it's more important that every individual vote counts as much as any other. Our representatives should reflect the population NOT the land.

Also, the Pa. Constitution requires that state legislative districts are compact and municipalities are not divided unless necessary. No one who looks at our state maps could say our districts fit that bill.                            - Tim

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