Tick, tick, tick … Hear that?
It’s not the countdown to a standoff with North Korea. Or even the looming mid-term elections.
But it does have everything to do with voting, and insuring that our most valuable constitutional right actually means something.
It is the backbone of our constitutional democracy, the notion that engaged citizens elect their representatives.
In Pennsylvania, for years now, just the opposite has been in place. Thanks to the cunning of some of our elected leaders, aided in no small part by the political sleight of hand known as gerrymandering, some officials actually negate this process by choosing their voters. It’s a dirty process that invalidates large blocs of voters, nearly predetermining an election’s results, almost always in favor of the incumbents who drew up the rules.
Don’t fall for the partisan rallying cry that this is an indictment of one party or the other. This is an equal-opportunity process, with the party that controls the Legislature also controlling the process by which congressional districts are drawn up.
The state Supreme Court ruled the old congressional district maps unconstitutional, then submitted maps of its own that will be in place for the 2018 mid-term elections.
But the dirty process of drawing the maps remains in place, and a plan that would get this crucial task out of the hands of politicians and make it the job of a non-partisan independent commission is dying on the vine in Harrisburg.
Time is of the essence. That clock you hear ticking is time running out on getting this process fixed in time for the 2020 elections. That is because the process is not an easy one. Legislation must be passed by both chambers in two successive sessions. And that is simply to get a referendum to change the system on a statewide ballot question.
Unfortunately, a plan to do just that was torpedoed in the last session by a Republican move to also alter the way the state elects its appellate and high court justices. The GOP wants those votes done by district, as opposed to a statewide ballot, the current method that means those courts invariably are dominated by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh jurists. It may have merit, but it should not be used as a way of stalling the push for an independent commission to draw up districts.
Of course, our hard-working state representatives could not wait to hit the Turnpike and scatter across the state for their 12-week vacation, leaving behind some fairly important unfinished business.
The independent commission to draw districts is not the only legislation left sitting on their desks. Important measures to protect domestic abuse victims and strengthen the state’s gun background checks are also wilting on the vine.
But none have the crucial time element that is integral to this citizens commission.
That is why several groups are pressing Gov. Tom Wolf – himself busy running for re-election – to call legislators back for a special session on redistricting. Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-18, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 22, which would set up the independent commission, also is pushing Wolf for a special session.
If the Legislature fails to take action, the antiquated method of allowing politicians to guide the process of drawing up districts will be in place for another decade.
That’s not a future Pennsylvania should consider.
We urge Wolf to call the House and Senate back in a special session to focus on the issue of redistricting.
It took a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court to toss out the obviously gerrymandered districts that politicians put in place after the last census.
Our vote is too precious to be so blatantly abused again in 2020.