|Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts:Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts:|
As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.
However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.
In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.
However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Was this simply a matter of luck?
Packing and Cracking
The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.
By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.
Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.
In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.
The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.
If Democrats Drew the Map
To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.
In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!
In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.
Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?
Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.
Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the map adopted by the state assembly.
Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.