EDITORIAL: The back room and the ballot box
We rarely get good news from Washington or Harrisburg. So it is darn near miraculous that both capitals are considering measures that would flip-flop the perverted practice of elected representatives picking their voters as opposed to voters doing the picking.
If you thought you've been choosing, you haven't paid close attention to the redistricting process that takes place every 10 years following the census. The goal of that process is to realign the boundaries of legislative districts — theoretically based on population shifts — so that elected representatives have a relatively equal number of constituents. This is supposed to ensure equal representation for citizens.
Redistricting occurs at both the congressional level, for members of the House of Representatives, and at the state level, for members of the state House and the state Senate. While all of Bucks County is part of the 8th Congressional District, it is divided up into several state House districts and four state Senate districts. Regardless, the same contortionist antics have been used by the party in power — in Pennsylvania, that's the Republican Party — to produce both congressional and legislative districts that are politically friendly to the majority party's candidates.
The result of this rigging, known as gerrymandering, is that districts are made into safe havens for incumbents. Call it a job security program that insulates incumbents from a credible challenge and pushes them further to the right or left. No reason to moderate one's views if assured victory by district boundaries that have lassoed a politically friendly majority. And if you don't have to moderate your views to attract broad voter support, you sure don't have to moderate your views once elected.
This has led to what we now have in both Washington and Harrisburg: growing blocs of hard-liners unwilling to compromise with the other side. The result: legislative gridlock, dysfunction and divisiveness.
Not much gets done in this upside down version of democracy.
The encouraging news is that legislation will soon be introduced in the state House that would take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and give it to a nonpartisan, independent citizens commission. Actually, House Bill 722 replicates Senate Bill 22, which was introduced in February. But unification of the bills and passage by both chambers is only the beginning. Because the reform measure changes the state constitution, it would have to be passed again in the next legislative session and then go before voters. If any of those steps fail, we'll be stuck with the current redistricting process for another 10 years.
But there is hope that Washington could lead the way even if state lawmakers' knees buckle. Bucks County Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, introduced a resolution on Wednesday, co-authored with California Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat, that calls on the House to remove gerrymandering from congressional redistricting.
Gerrymandering, Fitzpatrick said, "has seriously undermined the public's trust in our democratic system. It is time to get the back room out of the ballot box."
And keep it out.