Gov. Wolf’s new Redistricting Advisory Council comes to the CMI for panel on Pennsylvania

Written By Caitlyn Scott, Co-News Editor

On Oct. 22, 2021, the Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council hosted an in-person session at the Center of Media Innovation (CMI) to take public comments about increasing concerns over unfair and biased redistricting of maps in Pennsylvania for the upcoming 2022 election.

The Redistricting Advisory Council was created on Sept. 13, 2021 as a six member council to provide guidance to Governor Wolf upon his review of the congressional plan that will be passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly at the end of the year.

“The process of determining congressional districts is essential to our democratic process,” Lee Ann Banaszak, a member of the Redistricting Advisory Council, said. “It determines how your voice will be heard in Washington D.C. over the next decade.”

Along with this, the council also decided to hold listening sessions about the redistricting process and to receive community input into how legislators should aid in keeping communities together and represent citizens fairly.

“The decisions that are made through the drawing of new district boundaries will affect every person and community in Pennsylvania for the next decade,” Wolf said in a press release announcing the council. “It is one of my most important acts as governor and I take that responsibility extremely seriously. That is why I have tasked this advisory council with listening to the people of Pennsylvania and providing their expert advice so that I can better evaluate the maps in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians.”

During the meeting held at the CMI, redistricting expert from Penn State University and council member Lee Ann Banaszak, along with Professor of Law from Dusquene University Joseph Mistick, came to Point Park to listen to concerns over the congressional plan and provide information on the process of redistricting.

“We have both the United States Constitution which lays down two basic principles for us and other requirements that we placed on Pennsylvania in this process that are internal to us,” Mistick said. “We also face the fact that over the past 10 years, what satisfied the courts then may not satisfy the court today because the people and values change.”

The council, according to Pennsylvania Government’s website, researches the redistricting processes within other states to improve fairness within their own process, avoid gerrymandering and align values to fit the Constitution.

Currently, this congressional process allows for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate members to redraw a state’s boundary lines within elective districts to create equal representations on the basis of a state’s population size, according to WSKG-TV.

According to the Pennsylvania Redistricting website, Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states that a census, which is an official survey of population size, is required to provide relevant data every 10 years to determine the number of congressional seats appointed within each state, determining which political party takes majority in configuring a new map.

“These principles want to ensure that districts keep communities together,” Banaszak said. “We want the process to be fair to both parties.”

With the overview of the processes explained during the event, one question and one public comment were taken into consideration from the Advisory council. The only concern fielded was from John Dagle, who asked for some classification of partisan fairness.

“I believe that partisan fairness is even more important than the traditional criteria in the state,” Dagle said. “Even though those criteria do not apply to congressional redistricting, the fact is the current opinion favors keeping those criteria even for congressional redistricting.”

Along with partisan fairness, Dagle also noted concern over bias within districts written in favor of one political party.

“It’s clear that traditional maps can be drawn to span a wide range of partisan bias,” Dagle said. “My proposal for the next congressional redistricting is pretty simple: choose the least biased map of those in the group that satisfy the traditional criteria, then, choose the least biased map for the final draft.”

Following the event at Point Park, the advisory council has planned to host more sessions at other institutions within the state, ending one day after the upcoming election on Nov. 2.

“We were formed to develop standards for evaluating the integrity and fairness of a given map and to prevent the delusion of citizens’ voices,” Banaszak said.