Anti-gerrymandering petition hits Chadds Ford

Township supervisors are expected to vote April 4 whether to sign onto a petition supporting changes in how legislative districts are drawn in Pennsylvania. The board heard a presentation, and request from Chadds Ford Township resident David Epstein on the matter during the March 28 work session.

As was reported several times last year, gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts to favor a given political party over all others.

“It’s when politicians pick voters instead of voters picking politicians,” Epstein said.

There was a big push last year to end gerrymandering in the state with efforts to bring awareness of two bills, HB 722 and SB 22 that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to establish an 11-member nonpartisan commission to draw district lines instead of the five-member commission that had been used.

Gerrymandering led to Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District morphing into a shape some call "Goofy kicking Donald."

The five-member commission resulted in some oddly shaped districts such as Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District that was shaped as, what some called, “Goofy kicking Donald.”

While those bills remain in the legislature, court challenges led to new temporary boundaries that will hold through 2020 when the next census is taken.

The petition Epstein presented reads in part:

“We the people of Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania, call upon the Chadds Ford Board of Supervisors to publicly support and work for the enactment of legislation that will end gerrymandering, and guarantee independent, fair, nonpartisan redistricting reform immediately following the 2020 census.”

Epstein said the current temporary fix affects only districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, but that state legislative districts need to be properly redrawn also.

Section 16 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says districts shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory and “Unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”

Pennsylvania is not unique. There are anti-gerrymandering efforts in other states, including Maryland where the issue has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Pennsylvania, gerrymandered districts favor the Republican Party while in Maryland, Democrats get the boost.

“Both parties are just as bad,” said Susan Epstein. “Who’s ever in power will draw districts in their favor.”

Supervisors’ Chairman Frank Murphy acknowledged that David Epstein had first brought the matter to his attention last spring and thanked him for the presentation and for clarifying the issue for him and the other members of the board.

Murphy said he wanted the township solicitor to review the request for a resolution before taking a vote that, Murphy said, could come during the regular April meeting next week.

 

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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