William Marx points out one of the districts that crossed four counties as an image of the old congressional districts of Pennsylvania are projected on a wall in the classroom where he teaches civics in Pittsburgh on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Marx was a plaintiff in the Pennsylvania lawsuit that successfully challenged the Republican-drawn congressional maps. Marx said he believes the new district boundaries resulted in "a more fair congressional representation of the will of the people in Pennsylvania." (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Emily is a reporter for WITF who’s been covering voting and elections since July 2019 as part of her former role with statehouse accountability news organization PA Post. She was the senior reporter for statewide public media collaboration Keystone Crossroads. Previously, she covered city hall for PennLive/The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.), was a watchdog and city hall reporter at The Press of Atlantic City and reported for the Northwest Herald. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania voters want changes to how state legislative districts are drawn, according to a recent poll conducted by Franklin and Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research in partnership with Fair Districts PA.
Two-thirds (67%) of the registered voters contacted in the survey said they want an independent commission to be in charge of the redistricting process, which typically occurs every ten years after the completion of the national census.
Just over half of voters (51%) agreed with the statement that the current process, in which the legislature and the state Supreme Court draw new lines, “allows party leaders to put party interests ahead of voters’ interests.”
Forty-one percent agreed with the statement that the current practice “allows elected officials to choose their own voters instead of voters choosing their elected officials,” while 39% agreed that it “gives voters less choice on Election Day.”
Nearly three-fifths of respondents (59%) said they would be “much more likely” or “somewhat more likely” to vote for a state legislator who supports the creation of an independent commission to draw new legislative districts.
The poll also found that a supermajority of Pennsylvanians (70%) believes the state government needs to be reformed. When informed that the state constitution “was adopted in 1874 and the last constitutional convention was held in 1967,” 44 percent of respondents said they strongly favor the convening of a new constitutional convention, while 33 percent said they somewhat favor such a move.
Redistricting reform is a top goal for many good government supporters in Pennsylvania and nationally, with the 2018 state Supreme Court decision that threw out the congressional map crafted by Republicans in 2011 drawing even more attention to the issue.
For much of the nation’s history, state legislatures drew new district maps following federal government’s constitutionally mandated decennial census. But with growing objections to gerrymandering – the drawing of lines to ensure one party’s voters are a majority or minority in a given district — some states have created independent commissions to draw congressional or legislative maps, which in some cases must still be approved by an up-or-down vote of the legislature.
Creating an independent commission in Pennsylvania would require a multi-step effort, as explained on the Fair Districts PA website. The state legislature would need to approve a constitutional amendment twice, in succeeding legislative sessions. Then the amendment would be put to the voters in a statewide referendum.
The F&M poll of 901 registered voters was conducted between August 20 and September 10, with voters questioned by phone or online. The margin of error is +/- 5.6 percentage points. Read the full survey topline here.