FairDistricts PA will fight gerrymandering with week of educational events and campaign for voting reform | PolitiCrap

FairDistricts PA will fight gerrymandering with week of educational events and campaign for voting reform

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This map shows the 2012 redistricting of Senate District 28 - © 2012 GOOGLE
  • © 2012 Google
  • This map shows the 2012 redistricting of Senate District 28
According to a report released in May, Pennsylvania is among the three worst gerrymandered states in the country. And others say Pennsylvania is the most gerrymandered it has ever been.

But what is gerrymandering, and how does it impact elections and local politics? Next week, local organizers will attempt to answer these questions and more with a series of events around the city.

"Gerrymandering is a little complicated, a little wonky," says Kitsy McNulty, coordinator of the Pittsburgh Local Group of FairDistricts PA. But essentially the term refers to the practice of manipulating voting-district boundaries in order to benefit a particular political party or candidate.

"Some of these districts have been drawn in such an outrageous fashion," says McNulty. "You can see where they've been drawn to grab voters of a particular party, and take them out of a district and put them into another district. If you're trying to help the Republicans, you pack all of the Democrats into a certain district and take them out of other districts where they might oppose Republicans."

FairDistricts PA is a coalition of government-reform groups that was co-founded by nonpartisan groups Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. Common Cause was born out of the Watergate scandal and unethical practices in government.

Next week's event are aimed at persuading state lawmakers to support voting-reform legislation that would take redistricting out of the hands of politicians.

"Everybody is frustrated with the way government is so dysfunctional," says McNulty. "And we're convinced that the main reason it's so dysfunctional is because the legislators are not accountable. And the reason voters can't hold them accountable is because the districts have been drawn in such a way that they protect the incumbents, or they protect a particular political party.

"Both parties do this. Right now in Pennsylvania, it's the Republicans but the Democrats have done it too."

House Bill 722 and Senate Bill 22 would give a citizens commission power over redistricting. Similar reform has taken place in California and the proposed 11-person Pennsylvania citizens' commission would be modeled after that success.

"We want the districts to be drawn fairly to represent the voters in the community, and we feel the only way to do that is to take the line-drawing out of the hands of the professional politicians and give it to a commission of citizens who have no conflicts of interest or financial gain in their decision," says McNulty.

The week-long campaign,  “Eight Days a Week for Fair Democracy,” will kickoff on Aug. 16 at the Lawrenceville branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The event will start with a theatrical demonstration featuring 19th-century Massachusetts Gov. Eldridge Gerry, the namesake of gerrymandering. A question-and-answer session will follow.

Other events throughout next week will include visits to state legislators in their home districts, educational forums, public letter-writing drives and face-to-face meetings with legislators.

Legislative leaders redraw the voting districts every 10 years. The next redistricting will occur after the 2020 Census.

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