STATEMENT: This Isn’t The Redistricting Reform We Need

Marc Stier |

HARRISBURG—Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center director Marc Stier made the following statement regarding the resurfacing of SB22, a bill intended to change the way legislative redistricting is done in Pennsylvania:

Senator Mike Folmer announced this week that he will be resurrecting last year’s failed SB22, a bill to change the way district lines are drawn in Pennsylvania. Senator Folmer is preparing to bring the bill back up for a vote in the State Government Committee as early as tomorrow.

While eliminating gerrymandering is critically important, Senator Folmer is hoping to catch Pennsylvanians unawares as he attempts to bring a failed bill to a committee vote without holding debate and hearings and without gathering input from the communities that will be most impacted by SB22. Governor Wolf established a redistricting commission earlier this year and Senator Folmer should not attempt to rush SB22 through committee without giving Pennsylvanians a chance to use the commission process and express their views about redistricting.

As we explained in this blog post and a longer analysis of the bill, this version of SB22 is flawed in four main ways:

1. The commission created by the Folmer plan is not independent at all. It may look a little more independent than the current process, but it contains none of the barriers that limit political control over redistricting that are found, for example, in the California plan.

2. The Folmer proposal gives the General Assembly far too much control over the redistricting process, weakening the checks and balances on its power conferred under the current procedures for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines. At best, this is likely to lead to congressional and state legislative redistricting plans that go too far in protecting incumbents.

3. The Folmer plan might lead to an even worse result as it will often give the majority party in the General Assembly the ability to draw partisan district lines that benefit itself. Think through how the Folmer plan might work in practice and you discover at least two ways in which a General Assembly can put forward and enact a partisan gerrymander of both congressional and state legislative districts.

4. The Folmer proposal has no finality. It creates a process that might not lead to new districts at all.

In addition, since last year we have come to realize that ensuring racial equity and community interests are addressed in a meaningful way in the redistricting process requires a process with far more community involvement than that proposed in SB22.

In order to secure our democracy, we must secure Pennsylvanians’ access to fair voting and representation and SB22 is not the path towards that goal.