Op/ed: Chadds Ford should oppose gerrymandering

I lived in Manhattan, in the 1970s. The Democratic Party ran the town and elections were decided in the primaries

That’s when I learned about “gerrymandering.” New Yorkers knew that voting district lines were drawn to favor certain groups and candidates. It was unfair, but I didn’t know what I could do.

Fast-forward to now. For the past five years, I’ve lived here in Chadds Ford. And once again, gerrymandering warps the politics of my home town. The boundaries of voting districts for U.S. and state legislative districts are drawn by partisan politics. It needs to change. And now, there’s something we can do about it.

Here in Chadds Ford, we live in Congressional District 7. Have you seen the map? It’s a tortured absurdity. The district is wide in places, pencil-thin in others, and not a straight line anywhere. Boundaries cut through towns, and divide counties. The lines are obviously drawn to include certain areas (and their voters), and carve out others.

Don’t take my word for it. Do a web search for Pennsylvania District 7 and then click on “Images.” You’ll see why our district map has been called “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck,” among other names. You’ll be shocked at our distorted and irrational voting district.

But is it really irrational? Unfortunately no. Our district was redrawn after the 2010 census. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Dec. 15, 2011) reported that the old District 7’s party make-up included 47 percent Republicans; the new map bumped it up to 52 percent. If this were a random accident, then so be it; but it’s not. The maps were obviously drawn to benefit the party in power. This is acknowledged by leaders of both parties.

And who draws those lines? The state Constitution requires the maps to be drawn by a committee appointed by our legislators, according to who is in power. Naturally, they draw the lines to keep themselves in power. Currently, Republicans have the upper hand; but the Pennsylvania Democratic Party did the same when they had the chance, and will again.

It’s unfair. Elections are supposed to let voters pick their politicians. But instead, politicians pick their voters.

As a result, many elections have a foregone conclusion. This is so obvious to the local parties themselves that almost half of Pennsylvania senators and representatives (both Democrats and Republicans) run unopposed; the opposition party doesn’t even bother to field a candidate.

And when re-election is pre-ordained, politicians have no incentive to represent their voters’ interests. The result? We voters have less reason to trust them.

What can we do? Only one thing: change the Pennsylvania Constitution, to take the map-drawing out of the hands of the legislators, and instead appoint independent citizens.

Who would these independent citizens be? Who would appoint them? One possibility, supported by the League of Women Voters’ group, FairDistrictsPA, would put redistricting in the hands of independent citizens who have no direct party connections. Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 would do just that. More than 90 state legislators — Republicans and Democrats — have co-sponsored those bills. But party officials are blocking these bills from entering legislative committees where the details would be hammered out.

Pressure must be brought to bear. An important pressure point is local governments, who actually do represent their citizens (and do it well). In fact, our local Chadds Ford government is an excellent example of how elections are supposed to make government work. Our supervisors, in my opinion, do an outstanding job of representing our interests, on many sensitive issues. Why? It’s not just because they’re smart, thoughtful people. We vote them in — or out — in contested, hard-fought elections, based on how they represent our interests.

Many of us in Chadds Ford want to end gerrymandering, and we want to see our supervisors support the change. Chadds Ford voters — 168 of them — have signed a petition, publicly asking our Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution supporting a change to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

We’ll be asking the Chadds Ford Board of Supervisors to consider such a resolution in the next few months. It’s definitely within their scope of business, because of the importance of the issue to our democracy. Many surrounding townships have already done the same. It’s high time.

David M. Epstein
Chadds Ford Township
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