Street Corner Soapbox: Redistricting Revisited

Category:  Street Corner Soapbox
Thursday, February 9th, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Redistricting Revisited by Jay Stevens
aconaway

It wasn't long ago that I wrote about redistricting in these pages, explaining how the political boundaries of Pennsylvania -- along with every other state in the union -- are redrawn after the US Census results come in to adjust for changes in population and voter demographics. It's a messy process marred by gerrymandering, as districts are tugged and stretched into bizarre tetrahedrons to ensure that both incumbents are made safer and the state legislature's majority party remains in control.

This year was no different. We got an ugly politicized redistricting map designed behind closed doors by Republicans and approved of by many Democrats because it moved more left-leaning voters into Democratic districts -- making them safer -- and out of swing districts, making them more likely to go GOP.  Business as usual, you might say. And because so many election-averse Democrats backed the plan, many thought any challenges to it would sail through the courts.

No so fast, pardner! The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the redistricting plan in late January.

Why? Well, no one really knew. Two of the justices in the majority opinion jetted off to Puerto Rico for a short getaway vacation before bothering to pen an explanation of the decision. Legislators were left scratching their collective heads. Without knowing why the maps were being rejected, they couldn't redraw them.

When the justices returned and presented the written decision this past Friday, things became no clearer. Ruling that redistricting was contrary to law because of the "existence of a significant number of political subdivision splits that were not absolutely necessary" -- that is, because Republicans carved up cities or county seats to rig the districts -- the court declined to give any clear guidance or even to list any districts they found abhorrent. Instead they seemed to reverse their own ruling with a breezy recognition that the "Pennsylvania Constitution absolutely permits necessary political subdivision splits, and that some divisions are inevitable."

And given that this thing appears to have been written poolside over fruity drinks, the drafters of the majority opinion displayed a heroic invulnerability to irony when they delivered, stone-faced, this nugget of encouragement: "...we have no doubt that the [committee appointed to draw the redistricting maps] will act in good faith, and with fidelity, in discharging its weighty, difficult constitutional duty...no less than we have in discharging our appellate function."

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania primary is hurtling towards us, and election officials don't yet know which voters fit into which state legislative districts, and candidates don't know which doors to knock on. Some candidates even fear that -- if the 2001 districts are used in the upcoming election -- their houses won't even be in the district they hoped to represent, making them ineligible for that office.

While some hope this mess spurs real redistricting reform, Democrats for one are salivating at the prospect of using current boundaries for the 2012 election -- a political map they've won before, and in a presidential election year that should spur recently dormant left-leaning voters to the polls. No doubt they're hoping that redistricting lands in their laps, and we'll see a whole new batch of gerrymandered districts.

What's lost in all of this back-and-forth wrangling between legislators and courts is, of course, the voter. You. Me.

Erie Reader: Vol. 4, No. 17
Now Available — Pick It Up Today

CURRENT

Conservatives met in Dallas. What does this mean for the PA-3?

The Onion's story of Brad Meredith Blevins continues into a second season of fantasy goodness.

A brief address of the continued need for all-ages venues in our community as a means of fostering creative growth

Weapons Priming and the Role of Militarization

LEAF hosts its final Movie in the Arboretum this Friday. It's going to be a kickin' time.

IN THIS ISSUE

The Art of Patricia Kearney: Selected Work 1975-2013

Erie Man Returns to Troubled Homeland to Document Crisis

No Second Guessing The New Depression starts with circus-like fanfare, but there's no funny business after that – only serious rhymes layered upon thick, jazzy samples that don't neglect the booming bottom-end we all appreciate.

If you are an inveterate fan of New Jersey pop-punk quartet The Gaslight Anthem, you will likely be disappointed or at least befuddled by their latest release.

After releasing their debut album back in 2011, Buffalo-quartet The Albrights return with their self-titled sophomore release, and the results are as catchy as ever.

The sole founding members of Spoon have mastered the art of piecing together separate sonic parts to create a memorable whole, carefully constructing songs with basic elements before adding special touches through audio engineering tricks to dazzle all of the headphone listeners out there.

German Heritage Festival, Zabawa Polish Festival, and the Erie County Fair -- all happening in two weeks!

Unicorns and vampires? FILM's got you covered, Erie.

Two nights, two killer shows: Chrome Moses w/ Daybreak Radio, and The Burning River Ramblers at King’s Rook Club.

Seventy years ago, three Erie brothers gave the ultimate sacrifice.