Experts, advocates call for ‘transparency,’ ‘clarity’ in reapportionment process

House State Gov. Committee meets for stakeholder comments on reapportionment efforts

By: - July 22, 2021 4:16 pm

Pennsylvania’s old congressional map was ruled an unconstitutional gerrymander by the state Supreme Court last year. (US Government)

Transparency and clarity were the themes of a state House panel’s hearing on congressional apportionment Thursday, as experts, advocates and citizens offered recommendations to state lawmakers on how the once-a-decade processes should proceed. 

Led by state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, the House State Government Committee, which is tasked with planning how best to redraw Pennsylvania’s now-17 congressional districts, heard recommendations on criteria for map-making, public engagement, and representation in an hours-long hearing on reapportionment.

Grove has previously pledged to make the process as transparent as possible.

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Of the six stakeholder testimonies the committee heard Thursday, five focused their remarks on ensuring the process was transparent and clear to the citizens of Pennsylvania. 

Referring to the 2011 Congressional map thrown out by the state Supreme Court, Jean Handley, a Dauphin County volunteer for the advocacy group Fair Districts PA, said this year “must be different.”

Handley noted that much of the 2011 map deliberation process was not open to the public. 

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“This time, voters are demanding transparency and more,” Handley told the committee. “The voters are paying attention and will be watching much more closely this time.”

Handley said the group wants Pennsylvania voters to have the ability to access and view maps online, the ability to attend hearings in-person or online, an explanation of the map-making criteria and the maps themselves, as well as mention of where public input was incorporated into the map’s design. 

Her comments were reiterated by Committee of Seventy President and CEO David Thornburgh, who asked the committee “to be clear” with Pennsylvanians about the reasons for their decisions regarding the map-making process. 

“Tell them the story of the map,” Thornburgh said, “to the maximum extent that you can tell them.” 

Thornburgh said that these clearly articulated explanations would help “reassure” Pennsylvanians of the legitimacy of the process and remove questions of motivations. 

“In my view you have both an extraordinary challenge and an opportunity,” Thornburgh told the committee. 

Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, suggested the committee throw out previously used maps, and instead start from a blank one “to right the wrongs” of previous maps by prioritizing communities of interest, providing meetings in English and Spanish, and educating the public about the requirements and timelines for reapportionment.”

Ali acknowledged that starting from scratch would take more time, but said it was necessary to ensure a truly representative map. 

Revisiting the saga of the 2011 map, Michael Li, senior counsel for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, cautioned against the influence of outside interests in the congressional reapportionment and redistricting process. 

In his testimony, Li recommended the committee engage in a “collaborative process” with citizens, asking them for specific input about their communities, rather than general comments on potential maps. 

“You should do this even if you think there’s a possibility of deadlock,” Li said, adding that maps developed with public input and with public approval will have sway in the courts, should they end up there.

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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.