The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Gerrymandering

Update and Call to action: Gerrymandering means some people lose a voice in government. In March, Horsham council was presented with a resolution to support bills now in the state legislature (HB 722 and SB 22) to change the state constitution and establish an independent citizen commission for redistricting. At its June 14 meeting, the council heard a citizen presentation on gerrymandering but did not vote on the nonbinding resolution. State Rep. Todd Stephens also has not added his name as a cosponsor of the House bill.

Please contact Horsham council president Deborah Tustin (dtustin@horsham.org) and Township Manager William Walker (wwalker@horsham.org) and tell them you support the resolution in support of a citizen commission for legislative and congressional redistricting. Please also contact Todd Stephens (Tstephen@pahousegop.com) and urge him to join the nearly 70 House members who are cosponsoring HB 722.

 

- original post -

The ultimate guide to gerrymandering (or: why all politics really is local)

Gerrymandering has been around since 1812 but is a hot topic as the 2020 census approaches.

Why you should care:

• Gerrymandering is a manipulation of voting district borders to give one party an unfair advantage in elections. For instance, Republicans with the majority in a state legislature can draw the district lines in such a way that Democratic voters are split up and put in districts with overwhelming majorities of Republican voters. In future elections, Republicans can then win a larger percentage of the district seats than their percentage of the total votes, because each district individually has more Republicans.

• Horsham Township is split between two US House districts, the 7th and 13th (more on this shortly). PA 7, which rambles across 5 counties and is just 800 feet wide at one point, is one of the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the country.1

• Voters often don’t get choices: In the 2016 election, more than half of the races for seats in the state legislature had only 1 major party candidate.

• Because legislators from gerrymandered districts face no credible threat of being defeated by a candidate from the opposition, their only real opposition comes from more extreme candidates within their own party. Over time, this can lead to a more and more polarized legislature, according to Fair Districts PA.

Gerrymandering 101:

• Legislative districts for the US House, state Senate, and state House are redrawn (reapportioned) every 10 years based on the results of the federal census. The state legislature handles this task, so whichever party controls the legislature can redraw the districts to its advantage.

• In a perfect world, legislative districts would be politically fair and geographically compact. In the graphic below, from this Washington Post article , a hypothetical town of 50 people is to be divided into 5 districts, and in two of the scenarios, some voters are losing their voices because of the way the lines are drawn on the map.

 

• 2010 was a midterm election year. The party not in the White House typically makes gains in a midterm. Combine that with the usual lackluster turnout by Democrats for any election other than a presidential one, and Republicans gained control of 21 more state legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s.3 They were now in the driver’s seat to redraw legislative districts after the 2010 census.

• Getting rid of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania requires amending the state constitution. That process has to start now so that it’s in place before the 2020 census and the next round of redistricting: the proposed amendment has to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and a public vote.

What gerrymandering means for you as a Horsham resident:

• Montgomery County could be its own congressional district, with a representative in the US House who would advocate for the county. Instead, the county is split among five congressional districts.4

• Horsham Township is split east-west between the 7th and 13th congressional districts. The split divides Horsham precinct 2-2, an area of less than 1 square mile.

• In 2000, Pennsylvania had 11 Republican and 10 Democratic representatives in the US House.5 After redistricting later that year (and a loss of 2 seats because of a drop in population), the state had 12 Republican representatives and 7 Democratic ones. Because of declining population, Pennsylvania lost another House seat after the 2010 census. In the 2012 election, Pennsylvania Democrats cast 51% of the votes for US House representatives, but won just 5 of the 18 seats. In 2014, Republicans cast 55.5% of the votes and retained their 13 seats, or 72% of the total. 6 The 2016 results are in the graphic below7:

Untitled

What you can you do about it:

• Sign up with Fair Districts PA .

• Encourage Horsham Council to adopt a resolution supporting a nonpartisan citizens’ commission for state-level redistricting. The resolution has been presented to the council by a township resident, but citizen support is needed to get it on the council agenda. Call the township manager William Walker at 215-643-3131 and ask him to put the resolution on the council’s agenda. Then attend the council meeting to urge council to adopt the resolution. Ambler Borough adopted an anti-gerrymandering resolution in March. A list of municipalities that have passed these resolutions is here.

• Contact your state legislators (find them here) and urge them to support SB22.

• Join the Horsham Democratic Committee by signing up on this website and coming out to meetings to get informed and make your opinions known.

• Attend a town hall on gerrymandering like this one on May 24th.

• Learn about the candidates for local races and vote in all elections.

• Follow this blog, as we dig into topics relevant to Horsham residents.

References

1. Taussig D. Getting to know the ridiculous new 7th congressional district. Philadelphia Inquirer. December 15, 2011.

2. Fair Districts PA. Redistricting slideshow. Slide 30.

3. Fair Districts PA. Redistricting slideshow. Slide 21.

4. Fair Districts PA. Redistricting slideshow. Slide 14.

5. Fair Districts PA. Redistricting slideshow. Slide 19.

6. Tamari J. How PA illustrates Obama’s call on gerrymandering.Philadelphia Inquirer. January 14, 2016.

7. Fair Districts PA. Redistricting slideshow. Slide 40.

Donate Calendar Get Involved