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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. Photo: AL DÍA Archives.

Governor Wolf creates redistricting reform commission

“The redistricting process should ensure every citizen’s voice is heard in our democratic process,” Governor Wolf said in a statement.

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On Thursday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf created a 15-member panel to explore ways to implement a fairer redistricting process in the state.

The Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission, established through executive order, will have nine months to provide the governor a report with recommendations on how to reduce partisan gerrymandering in favor of nonpartisan methods to “improve the integrity and fairness of Pennsylvania’s congressional and legislative redistricting process.”

“This commission will bring together diverse experts and citizens to explore ways that Pennsylvania could use policies, technology and data to curb gerrymandering and ensure fair maps,” Governor Wolf said in a press release. “The redistricting process should ensure every citizen’s voice is heard in our democratic process.”

David Thornburgh, the Executive Director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit, Committee of Seventy, will head the panel, which is comprised of both political and non-political figures, including two state representatives and two state senators, as well as former U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent, a Republican who represented Pennsylvania’s current 15th district.

“Court rulings this year that re-drew the congressional maps have not fixed the flawed process that produced them, and the existing structure for drawing state legislative maps lacks transparency, 21st-century mechanisms for public input or a clear sense of the values by which the maps are drawn,” the Committee of Seventy said in a press release on Thursday.

As part of its work, the commission will review redistricting reforms passed over the past year, in Ohio, Colorado, Utah, Michigan and Missouri, the Committee of Seventy noted.

The governor’s executive order comes less than a year after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s old, heavily gerrymandered congressional map, which disproportionately - and illegally, according to the court - favored Republicans.

As Philly.com noted, with the old map, which was drawn in 2011, Republicans consistently won 13 of 18 House seats, even as the state swung between Republicans and Democrats in its statewide races for governor and the Senate, and voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 in the presidential elections.

With the new map, released last February by the state’s Supreme Court, in play for the midterms, Democrats picked up four seats in Pennsylvania - a wave also spurred on by general anti-Republican sentiment in the country which helped the Democrats gain 40 seats nationwide in the House.

The new panel has come under fire from Republicans, who say that redistricting should fall to the state legislature.

Pennsylvania will next redraw its congressional districts following the 2020 census.

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