Every 10 years, when new census data is released, state governments are tasked with redrawing congressional maps. But for the first time, elected officials are working to get the public involved and make the process as transparent as possible.
Last Monday, Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks), House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove (R-York) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) convened outside of Thomas’ district office, 1038 2nd Street Pike in Richboro, to discuss their changes to the reapportionment process for redrawing U.S. congressional district lines in Pennsylvania. They were joined by members of the House Republican delegation from southeastern Pennsylvania, including Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks).
Redrawing these maps, said the trio, is an important undertaking. Information collected through the U.S. Census determines the number of U.S. representatives each state is entitled to based on population. Once in receipt of that data, states are responsible for redrawing the geographic area of their congressional districts to ensure equal and fair representation, and the physical manifestation of the constitutional principle “one person, one vote.”
“Both last term and this term, I introduced legislation to transform the redistricting process to increase transparency and give the people a stronger voice in the process,” said Thomas. “After much discussion with House leadership, they will begin to implement many of the recommendations in redistricting the congressional seats.”
Thomas shared that many aspects of her House Bill 22, which she said has over 90 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, are being used as a guide. Pennsylvanians can now provide feedback on the reapportionment process at the newly-created PARedistricting.com. Residents are able to make comments as well as draw and designate communities of interest.
“As someone coming in from south central Pennsylvania, I don’t know everything about Bucks County,” said Grove. “But who does? My Bucks County legislators. They know what’s happening in their communities. So do the individuals there. It’s critically important we have that information as we develop maps moving forward.”
Additionally, public hearings at the Capitol in Harrisburg are slated to begin on July 22 and run through the end of October. Recordings of the videos will be available on the website, which Grove described as a “one-stop-shop” for congressional redistricting.
While the Legislative Reapportionment Commission will continue working on redistricting the General Assembly, the House State Government Committee, chaired by Grove, will oversee the public hearings for congressional seats.
“In the end, this new process will prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and promote accountability by the voters,” said Thomas. “In these divisive political times, many people have lost faith in their political system. It’s critical that we have an open system as much as possible, one that’s as transparent as possible.”
Benninghoff thanked Thomas for her efforts.
“Engaging in redistricting is one of the most important processes the legislature will undertake. From the beginning, at both the state and federal levels, the House Republican Caucus has said we are committed to a fair, open and legal process to draw new district lines to preserve our ideal of ‘one person, one vote,’ ” he said. “The coming slate of hearings, the publicly accessible website and the ability for Pennsylvanians to submit their own maps and communities of interest clearly makes this effort the most transparent congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania history. The work that will be put into this by the House State Government Committee shows our caucus’ commitment to a process-oriented approach that is reflective of the people’s voice.”
Bucks County’s 54 municipalities and a portion of Montgomery County currently make up Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, which is represented by Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick.
The Bucks County Commissioners recently shared that, amid preliminary discussions in Harrisburg, Bucks could soon be divided among two congressional districts. All three commissioners approved a resolution condemning the idea.
“We want to keep Bucks County intact,” said Bob Harvie. “We know that there are other counties that are chopped up into pieces, but it would certainly make the job of elected officials, like ourselves, more difficult and more complicated for voters.”
“I don’t think anybody in Bucks County wants to see [a split] happen, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent or whatever party you belong to,” said Gene DiGirolamo.
Grove added that he hopes Gov. Tom Wolf engages with his and Thomas’ efforts soon.
“We are constitutionally mandated to get this done, and it’s in our best interest to all work together,” he said. “Hopefully, if I make a call to his office it will be responded to and we can actually start to have conversations moving forward about how to get this done, unlike what happened with election reform.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org