Today I needed to remember where congressional district 7 is. Over there to the east of West Chester, right? Right. I looked it up. But it’s also south, west and north of West Chester.
On this map of the local districts, the green in the upper right quadrant is part of the 6th district. The blue that meanders around its edges is part of the 7th district. The green projection from Oxford to Coatesville belongs to the 16th district.
And so it goes on all sides: The 6th district sticks its neck out north to Kutztown and west to Lebanon. The left lobe of district 7 reaches almost to Reading and the right lobe beyond King of Prussia; those two parts are linked by a slender corridor between Coatesville and Downington. The 16th district extends from our area all the way to the Susquehanna River and north to Reading.
What mental wing housed the person who designed these districts? Sad to say, it’s the Pennsylvania General Assembly, that is, our elected officials in Harrisburg.
Their madness has inspired some people’s creative side. In a contest called by Chesco state senator Andy Dinniman (D-19), the winning title for CD 7 was “Bullwinkle J. Moose,” after a children’s cartoon character of that name.
The madness of gerrymandering, however, is all in the self-interest of the perpetrators. After the Tea Party propelled the Republican party to a big majority in both the State Senate and House on 2010, their party forced these districts through Harrisburg, violating all norms of community and all convenience of legislators, candidates, and voters. Their point was to push as many Democrats as possible into a few districts and give the Republicans winning margins in the rest. It worked brilliantly: the state has a lot more registered Democrats, but a lot more Republicans elected to Harrisburg and Washington.
This is not just politics as usual. It has risen to the level of anti-American election rigging, to use a term popularized this year on both the left and the right. Non-existent “voter impersonation fraud” is used as an excuse to disenfranchise millions of Americans (miraculously, that effort was beaten back in our own state, but will corrupt outcomes in many others) and meanwhile, gerrymandering makes a mockery of what should be an honest, open effort to determine the will of the people. You know, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as the first Republican president phrased it long ago.
The people in Harrisburg who put through this ignoble scheme should be ashamed of themselves. I hope they will soon have a lot of free time in which to repent.
What’s to be done? The two major parties need to come to approximate parity in Harrisburg before the next redrawing of boundaries, after the census of 2020. It would be helpful if a few Libertarians and Greens joined the mix and induced the others to see the folly of trying to undo democratic representation for the sake of party interests and personal careers. Then, “our” state government could change redistricting to a non-partisan process that would draw all districts as compactly (and non-creatively) as possible and split up the fewest municipalities possible.
Too much to dream for? Not for me.
The public interest group Common Cause has been trying to reform Pennsylvania redistricting since 1980. In 2015 a few legislators formed a working group to work on reform. I wish them luck. For the sake of public confidence in our government, we must end, as soon as possible, the massive election fraud of gerrymandering.
PS 10/21/16: for more PA background, see the comment and reply below. For the history of gerrymandering, see Elizabeth Kolbert, “Drawing the Line: How redistricting turned America from blue to red,” The New Yorker, 6/27/16. Kolbert’s examples circle around Pennsylvania, most notably (referring to after the 2010 census):
The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.
The original gerrymander—named for Massachusetts’ ninth governor, Elbridge Gerry—was a sinuous blob that wound around Boston. (“The Gerry-Mander: A new species of Monster” read the headline over a cartoon of the district that ran in the March 26, 1812, edition of the Boston Gazette.) Among the misshapen districts to emerge from Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan is one Daley describes as looking “like a horned antelope barrelling down a hill on a sled.” Another has been compared to Donald Duck kicking Goofy in the groin. So skillfully were the lines drawn that in 2012—when President Obama carried Pennsylvania by three hundred thousand votes and the state’s Democratic congressional candidates collectively outpolled their G.O.P. rivals by nearly a hundred thousand votes—Republicans still won thirteen of Pennsylvania’s eighteen seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Arguably the most distorted map in the country” is how one researcher described the Pennsylvania districts. “In Pennsylvania, the Gerrymander of the Decade?” the Web site Real Clear Politics asked….