State Republican lawmakers promised Monday to oversee “the most transparent Congressional redistricting process in Pennsylvania’s history.”
Public hearings will be held around the state, including Sept. 22 in Philadelphia, and a new website — PARedistricting.com — allows residents to submit feedback and outline “communities of interest” that should be in the same legislative district.
Once the U.S. Census Bureau submits granular data to the states, people will also be able to draw their own maps and send them to Harrisburg, the GOP leaders said.
“The people of the commonwealth, for the first time, will be able to make their suggestions, either in-person at hearings or online,” said state Rep. Wendi Thomas, a Bucks County Republican who has advocated for redistricting reform.
“In the end, this new process will prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and promote accountability by the voters,” she added.
Laura Richlin, Philadelphia coordinator for Fair Districts PA, an anti-gerrymandering group, said organizers are optimistic that changes will be made to a formerly secretive process.
“What was discussed at the redistricting reform press conference sounds very positive, and we hope that they will follow through with the plans for transparency and citizen participation that they talked about,” she told Metro.
Redistricting is a once-in-a-decade procedure to redraw electoral boundaries based on population changes reflected in the U.S. Census.
Pennsylvania is again losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which will bring the commonwealth’s delegation down to 17.
In recent years, there’s been a growing push to redesign the process to eliminate gerrymandering, a technique used by lawmakers to dilute the power of voters from the opposing political party.
Three years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s 2011 Congressional maps, saying they gave Republicans an unlawful advantage, and the judges redrew the districts.
Congressional maps must be approved by the GOP-controlled legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, while a commission composed mainly of state legislative leaders draws the districts for the Pennsylvania house and senate.
Richlin said Fair Districts PA hopes lawmakers advance comprehensive redistricting legislation that would codify reforms into law and apply them to state districts, not just Congressional boundaries.
Many of the transparency initiatives announced Monday were included in a bill championed by Thomas; however, it stalled last spring in Harrisburg.
State Rep. Seth Grove, who chairs the House’s State Government Committee, said he would be open to supporting legislation if this year’s “trial run” goes well.
Thomas, speaking outside her Richboro, Bucks County, office, said she will continue efforts to pass a redistricting package.
Wolf’s office did not respond Monday afternoon to a request for comment on the initiatives.
“Hopefully, the governor engages with this process early on,” said Grove, who added that he had not yet discussed redistricting with Wolf.
The governor “believes we must have a process that is free of partisan influences and gerrymandering so the interests of all Pennsylvanians remain the top priority,” a spokesperson told Metro.