PA’s Gerrymandering Case: What’s Going On and What’s Next?

Gerrymandering might be the issue of our time.

You know that sinking feeling you get after every single election where you just can’t understand how one party won so many seats? Gerrymandering is responsible for this phenomenon, which you might as well refer to as “artificial majorities.”

Both major parties engage in gerrymandering when it’s their turn at bat. The interested parties in Pennsylvania’s gerrymandering case knew the stakes were high — they finally had a shot at tilting the balance of power in the state in a direction that represents reality and simultaneously set a precedent for the rest of the nation.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released their final district maps on February 19, 2018, following a brief tussle between Republicans in Congress and Democrats, including governor Tom Wolf.

In grand Pennsylvania fashion, like the perennially overdue budget, yelling was done and teeth were gnashed but ultimately literally nothing was agreed upon. The Supreme Court allowed just one month for a full redraw.

Mind you, it could have been done much more quickly, and infinitely more fairly, by people with a functioning knowledge of computers. But for now, the Supreme Court’s new districts are binding until somebody challenges them in court.

Back in 2011, federal judges chose to protect what was challenged in court as an “unfair” voting map drawn by the state’s Republican Party. The maps have been steeped in controversy ever since. Recently, however, Democratic voters in the state delivered a lawsuit that resulted in the old maps getting tossed out. The resulting political power struggle revealed both the consequence and one of the primary sources of partisanship in America.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE PARTIES?

The Republican Party isn’t going to get demolished overnight in Pennsylvania. That’s the bottom line.

Good news comes in the form of “increased competition” within several districts which used to be locked down by Republicans plus gains by Democrats in others. Based on the Supreme Court’s maps as released on February 19, the Democratic party can likely count on five “safe” seats and Republicans can count on seven.

Of the seats which represent redrawn districts, six have been made newly competitive.

So? The state of Pennsylvania is now not quite such an impregnable fortress for Republicans. Part of the reason why the state’s budget is famously delayed each year is because PA has a Democratic governor but an all-GOP House and Senate. Democrats wouldn’t be in such an impossible position right now if Pennsylvania hadn’t had brutally unfair maps for so long.

And what do Democrats and Republicans routinely fight so bitterly about? How to “fairly” distribute public school funding, among other things.

American elections won’t truly be fair until we kill winner-take-all elections for good and bring about serious changes to how our elections are funded.

Most of America’s problems right now are a direct result of the two-party system, but knowing that isn’t enough. The parties themselves are made possible by — enforced by — district maps like these.

It took Democratic voters literally suing their state government into invalidating the current map, followed by a counter-proposal from Republicans in the form of slightly less outrageous maps, followed by more new maps furnished by Democrats, followed ultimately by intervention by the Supreme Court when a compromise couldn’t be reached.

WHAT ARE WE REALLY FIXING?

Pennsylvania joins Florida, a famously Conservative state, in having had its maps redrawn by court order and then ­by the courts. On both counts, the result was a “fairer” map that more accurately represents voters’ inclinations and reality — just not perfectly accurately.

One has to ask: what is the point of voting districts in the first place? Yes, they serve a purpose — but is it a necessary one? From where most of us are standing, which in some cases is Pennsylvania, voting districts have been, for many years, a very real barrier between ourselves and actual representative leadership, which is supposedly something America excels at and regularly exports to countries with mineral wealth.

voting districts have been, for many years, a very real barrier between ourselves and actual representative leadership, which is supposedly something America excels at and regularly exports to countries with mineral wealth.

We tell ourselves that the resulting proportion of red- and blue-tie-wearing lawmakers we send to office represents the fact that Pennsylvania is a “divided” state. But is it really that divided? The one thing you’ll find we all have in common, if you ask ten, or one hundred, or one thousand citizens at random, is that we all want fairer elections.

American elections won’t truly be fair until we kill winner-take-all elections for good and bring about serious changes to how our elections are funded. This brings us one step closer, at least.