Republicans who have controlled the state legislature for all but four of the past 27 years have been able to do so in part because of gerrymandering.
Several generations of GOP legislative leaders have firmly rejected the creation of a nonpartisan citizens’ commission to draw up new electoral maps every 10 years, after each census.
In 2011, the Republican majority designed a map of legislative precincts so battered that the state Supreme Court banned its use in the 2012 election. The final map for the 2014 election — the current map — skews Republicans from more than 8%, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
The proposed new map was produced by a commission made up of partisan Republican and Democratic legislative caucus leaders and a court-appointed independent chair, former University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg — the key player. According to the Princeton group, this would reduce the GOP advantage to 1.2%.
Cynically playing on the public’s preference for an independent commission, Republican legislative leaders concocted a constitutional amendment to create a fake one.
Only the legislative majority would appoint the members of a “Citizens’ Committee” but this majority would retain the right to reject the work of the commission and adopt its own map. Attacking the judiciary, the amendment also requires that if the Supreme Court invalidates a card, the legislative majority would draw a replacement.
Republican State Rep. Seth Grove of York County, the sponsor, said: “We’ll have…the final check to make sure there’s no shenanigans at the end of the day,” apparently by guaranteeing the shenanigans at the start of the day.
“It’s a power grab disguised as reform,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
To underscore this, the amendment would require districts to be redrawn immediately if voters approve. This means that the legislative majority itself would redraw the districts for 2024 rather than after the 2030 census.
And, of course, the cynics aim to place the measure on the 2023 primary ballot, to take advantage of the typical low turnout in an off-year primary to preserve minority rule.
Pennsylvanians have a habit of rubber-stamping amendments. If he makes it to the ballot, they must reject him to prevent Pennsylvania from replacing representative democracy with cynicism as a form of government.