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State Politicians Should Heed Voice Of Voters

December 19, 2018

In a rare victory for principle, the New Jersey Legislature has embarrassed neighboring Pennsylvania’s by abandoning an effort to give politicians more power to reconfigure legislative and congressional districts for their own advantage. Democrats who control most of the state government in New Jersey, including both legislative houses, had planned to ram through a state constitutional amendment in December and again in January, potentially creating a new system that would empower them to gerrymander ruthlessly for their own advantage. As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school pointed out, the plan would have enabled the majority to create districts that emphasized partisan outcomes, by “packing” some demographic groups into particular districts and “cracking” others to multiple districts to dilute their influence. Republicans, of course, opposed the plan. But they were powerless to defeat it. Democratic lawmakers dropped it because of widespread opposition among Democratic grass-roots organizations, more than 100 of which testified against it in hearings. They included voting rights activists, racial justice organizations, and labor unions. Democratic mayors from across the state and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy joined in the opposition. Activists argued that Democrats could win on a level, rather than gerrymandered field, and advocated creation of an independent citizens redistricting commission to remove politicians from the process. They pointed to California, where Democrats recently won overwhelmingly in congressional and state legislative races, in districts that were drawn by an independent commission with no input from politicians. Pennsylvania is different than New Jersey. Rather than a powerful majority attempting to consolidate that power through gerrymandering, the Pennsylvania Legislature has majorities in both houses of the minority party, which clings to gerrymandering as a means to cling to that tenuous grip on power. A fair, non-gerrymandered map is the last thing it wants. Earlier this year, confronted with a proposed state constitutional amendment to strip the state politicians of redistricting power, those politicians perverted it to enhance self-interested political control of the process and to apply gerrymandering to appellate court seats. Poll after poll shows that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly favor an end to gerrymandering. The question on this side of the Delaware River remains whether state politicians will heed the voice of the voters or continue striving to suppress it by gerrymandering.

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