The Lead

‘We have an opportunity here’: Pa. Redistricting Commission hears testimony on racial gerrymandering

By: - October 13, 2021 5:21 pm

Citizen witness Victor Martinez presents a map of population growth in Pennsylvania to the Legislative Redistricting Commission on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 (Capital-Star screen capture).

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of Black Pennsylvanians. This story was updated on Fri., Oct. 15 at 3:52 p.m. to correct the error.

The commission in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania’s legislative maps conducted its seventh public hearing Wednesday by homing in on the topics of the Voting Rights Act and racial gerrymandering. 

As part of its continued quest for public input, the Pennsylvania Legislative Redistricting Commission heard from four expert witnesses and four citizen witnesses who testified about the importance in addressing such topics as voting dilution, cracking of communities, the packing of legislative districts and voter disenfranchisement. 

2020 Census data showing the exponential growth of Pennsylvania’s Hispanic community in many parts of the state was also at the center of the conversation Wednesday. 

Four take-aways from Pennsylvania’s 2020 U.S. Census data

“The Hispanic community is not only growing in population, but they’re interested in participating,” Victor Martinez, a citizen witness from the Lehigh Valley, testified. “There is a community that wants to be heard.” 

Martinez cited Lehigh County-based state House districts 22, 132, 131 and 133 as areas of improvement, noting that despite the Hispanic population making up 55 percent of Allentown’s total population, the diluted nature of the community across four voting districts keeps a community of similar interest from having their collective voice heard. 

All of the districts Martinez mentioned are currently represented by white Representatives in the state Legislature. 

But voting for their candidate of choice isn’t the only issue, Martinez said, noting that the current district lines also discourage minority candidates from participating in local races.

“They don’t even want to try,” Martinez said about the odds Hispanics who might be interested in running for public office face. “‘I don’t have a shot,’ they say. “There’s not enough Latinos that will come out to vote.”

Will Gonzalez, a citizen witness from Philadelphia echoed Martinez’s comments, adding that the growth of Pennsylvania’s Hispanic population shows the community’ s commitment to the commonwealth’s future. 

“We have an opportunity here,” Gonzalez said. “Pennsylvania’s Hispanic community is ready to be stewards of change rather than victims of it.”

Bishop Dwayne Royster, the executive director of POWER Interfaith in Philadelphia called on the commission to create hope for Pennsylvanians of color by keeping communities of similar interest, such as those with ethnic or racial similarities, together.  

“This commission has the ability to provide hope. I believe that Pennsylvania should lean into its diversity.”

– Bishop Dwayne Royster

Royster noted that while Black Pennsylvanians make up nearly 12 percent of the commonwealth’s population, 89 percent of the state Legislature representing them is white. 

“It’s not just Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” Royster told the commission about the presence of diversity across Pennsylvania. “We have to create seats at the table.” 

 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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