Given what we have seen elsewhere in the country, it is essential for Pennsylvanians to pay attention as the map-drawing process reaches the critical juncture of considering draft maps.
Our country is getting more diverse and less rural. This is a fact confirmed by the 2020 Census data, which serve as a roadmap for redistricting in every state. If congressional and state legislative maps follow the data we see in the census, we should see more districts that reflect both the expanding urban population and the growing population of people of color across the country.
But so far in states where Republicans are in charge of redistricting, they are drawing maps that ignore the data altogether.
Republicans have gone out of their way to draw maps that empower rural, predominantly white regions. They do so at the cost of disenfranchising voters in the diverse urban and suburban areas that have seen an increase in population. Republicans have deployed several tactics, but the most egregious are those that purposefully diminish the voting power of the communities of color: “packing” and “cracking.”
Both tactics are anti-democratic, and diminish the voting power of communities of color either by reducing the number of representatives they’re able to elect or diluting their influence altogether. For example, in Ohio, Republicans packed Black and Latino communities in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, into just one district, purposefully reducing the representation of these communities in Congress. Meanwhile, in the same county, Republicans also split apart Asian American and Pacific Islander communities into separate districts, diminishing their voting power. In Texas, despite the fact that 95% of the population growth over the last decade has come from communities of color, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican legislature put in place maps that will actually increase the number of majority-white districts and reduce the number of competitive districts in Texas to just one. They purposefully drew these maps to ensure that rural, white areas electorally overpower the vote of more diverse communities.
There is no legitimate justification for these actions. It’s evident that Republicans have no qualms about bending or breaking the rules for their own gain, and these maps show that. Their actions speak loudly to their unwillingness to implement fair redistricting processes and create fair maps that accurately represent voters, and they must be stopped — in the courts and in the states. Given what we have seen elsewhere in the country, it is essential for Pennsylvanians to pay attention as the map-drawing process reaches the critical juncture of considering draft maps.
Similar to the rest of the country, Pennsylvania is an increasingly diverse state. According to census data, communities of color have driven the state’s population growth over the past decade. While the number of Pennsylvanians who identify as white dropped by more than 541,000, the number of Pennsylvanians who identify as Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Latino increased by more than 532,000. That growth did not just occur in and around urban centers like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — it also occurred in places like Lancaster County, where minority population growth accounted for more than 71% of the county’s overall population growth.
Pennsylvania is losing a seat in Congress because of slow population growth, particularly in the central, northern, and western regions. To achieve fairness, the congressional map should eliminate the 15th Congressional District in Western Pennsylvania, reflecting the movement of voters and statewide population changes. While the total number of state legislative districts will not change, the census data indicate that three state House districts should move from Western to Eastern Pennsylvania to reflect the population shift.
An increasingly diverse state should have maps that accurately reflect that trend with congressional and state legislative districts drawn in a manner to empower growing and diverse populations. Yet, Republicans in the state House introduced a draft congressional map that would do the opposite by “cracking” and “packing” communities of color to make Republican seats safer and put as many Democrats as possible into as few seats as possible. That is inconsistent with the census data and is dangerously anti-democracy.
Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission has a chance to show Pennsylvanians that redistricting can provide appropriate representation to urban neighborhoods and communities of color at the legislative level. Commission chair Mark Nordenberg has shown a commitment to fairness and has created a direct line of communication between citizens and the commissioners, which is continuing with the 30-day public comment period. If he and the commission listen to all of the public input and allow for a fair process, the final legislative maps they produce will provide appropriate representation to urban and increasingly diverse communities in places like Lancaster, Reading, and Allentown without “cracking” or unnecessarily “packing” communities of color. No matter who draws the maps, following the best available data and considering public input are each required to lead to a fair outcome. Citizens can and should play a role in a process that reflects the best of Pennsylvania democracy and not the political desires of a party afraid of a changing electorate.
Eric H. Holder Jr. is the 82nd attorney general of the United States and chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Published Dec 17, 2021, For The Inquirer