According to various recent polls, 80 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.
So if we disapprove of the work our representatives are doing, why do we keep sending the same people back to Congress? The answer is gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the process of organizing congressional districts to maximize the number of voters who belong to one party. As a result, it almost guarantees that once a representative is sent to Washington or Harrisburg, that representative will have a permanent job. Is that good for our democracy?
And here is the ultimate irony. Because of gerrymandering, representatives not only don’t have to listen to voters of the opposition party, they don’t have to listen to voters of their own party because they know those voters will keep sending them back year after year after year. That’s a great system for our elected representatives, but not so great for us.
Our representatives have essentially selected who their voters will be instead of us selecting who our representatives will be.
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There are many districts in Pennsylvania and other states where there is either no opposition or legislators are returned to office year after year with 70 percent or even 80 percent of the vote. It’s no wonder they don’t need to listen to us. Instead of listening to us, they listen to their party, which is why most votes are strictly along party lines.
It’s also why big donors, like the fossil fuel industry, are so influential. Since big money drives our elections, and our representatives know they have a job for life, big money holds sway over both the state and federal legislatures. The moneymen are the ones who our legislators listen to, not us.
For state legislative lines, Pennsylvania’s constitution requires that districts be contiguous and compact, and that they respect county, city, incorporated town, borough, township and ward boundaries “unless absolutely necessary.”
A cursory look at Pennsylvania’s legislative map makes it clear that is simply not what has happened. We have many districts cutting through the middle of school districts, and others dividing up towns into two, three or even four districts. Some federal congressional districts extend from near the Maryland border north to near the New York border, while others have a convoluted shape that makes a mockery of the Pennsylvania constitution’s requirement. All of this is designed to ensure the representative never has to worry about returning to the state or federal legislature.
It’s time we changed this.
Groups dedicated to creating fair districts are meeting throughout Pennsylvania right now, including Fair Districts PA and the newly formed Fair Districts Centre County. The goal is to make the process of drawing districts impartial, transparent and accountable — promoting competitive elections and partisan fairness so our government truly is of, by and for the people. We need to make sure all districts are as equal in population as possible within an established minimal range of deviation; respect political subdivisions and communities of interest; encourage geographical compactness and respect for natural geographical features and barriers; and prohibit districts from being drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against a political party or candidate.
We welcome Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Libertarians to join our effort to make our democracy begin working again. If you think our system of government is working just fine, there is no need to participate. However, if you are like the 80 percent of us who are dissatisfied how our federal and state legislatures are working, then we would welcome your participation.