Redistricting Reform in Pennsylvania


An excerpt from the Libertarian Party platform, 3.6: Representative Government:

“We oppose laws that effectively exclude alternative candidates and parties, deny ballot access, gerrymander districts, or deny the voters their right to consider all legitimate alternatives. We advocate initiative, referendum, recall, and repeal when used as popular checks on government.”

In our efforts to spread liberty, I believe we must research local policies and legislation that we believe represents the libertarian point of view, or at the very least are libertarian-leaning.

When I speak to my representatives, I plainly tell them that I am a Libertarian and I support H.B. XXX and this is why or I do not support S.B. XXX and this is why.

I am discovering two things: Some of these representatives whisper that they would be more apt to work with Libertarians than someone from the “other” party. Others say they are Libertarians but have not made that jump yet. One in particular carries a book with both the United States and the Commonwealth constitution in it – sometimes he will even show that Ron Paul autographed it.

So, today, I want to talk about legislation being considered in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that is gaining substantial support. This is legislation I believe Libertarians should be vocal about. The subject legislation involves redistricting reform, otherwise known as “Gerrymandering.”

There are currently seven bills that have been referred to the state government committee. Four in the House HB 563, HB 569, HB 924, and HB 1114 and three in the Senate SB 22, SB 243, and SB 464.

I contacted the chair of the committee in May to express my support for redistricting reform in general, but specifically for HB 563 or SB 22.

I like HB 563 because it is very specific as to how maps cannot be redrawn. It seems to have caught every loophole and dirty trick and said, “No.”

I like SB 22 because it has gone through great pains to eliminate the possibility of party manipulation.

The response from his office was favorable:

“Senator Folmer personally supports changing Pennsylvania’s reapportionment process.  However, as each requires an amendment to Pennsylvania’s Constitution, he believes each proposal should be publically vetted.  That’s why Senator Folmer is planning for the Senate State Government Committee to hold a series of hearings on elections issues in general and reapportionment issues in particular.  The first hearing is planned for June.”

This, I believe, follows our Libertarian beliefs. The process of changing the Commonwealth’s constitution cannot be taken lightly and must be vetted by the people. The process in Pennsylvania is lengthy and ends in a referendum vote on the ballot. The citizens of Pennsylvania have the final say.

I followed up with the Senator’s office on August 15, 2017. The response I received was disappointing:

“Dear Mr. Tatlas,

Senator Folmer, as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, had planned a series of public hearings on election issues – including proposals to change how electoral districts are drawn.  In early June, Senator Folmer, initiated the first of these hearings and while additional hearings on election issues are still planned, those relating to redistricting have been put on hold due to pending litigation on the drawing of maps.

Senator Folmer hopes these judicial challenges will be resolved quickly at both the state and national levels.”

In June, the same month hearings began, the League of Women Voters filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over its redistricting map from 2011. The lawsuit claims that the map is so blatantly partisan that it is unconstitutional. They claim that it violates the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment.

While I completely agree with the lawsuit, I find it poorly timed. We have a chair that personally wants redistricting reform completed before the next census. It will end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.

However this is a positive of the lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed in state court and it will have to go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Should the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rule in favor of the plaintiff the current map would have to be redrawn. My hope is that this would escalate the timeline and push redistricting legislation to the top of the agenda.

Can you imagine, as a Libertarian in Pennsylvania, voters actually choosing their legislators rather than the legislators choosing their voters? What would this mean for the Libertarian Party?

I’m not sure but I would like to find out.

* Gust Tatlas is a retired Navy man that has always been Libertarian but only recently found the party. His goal is to spread Libertarian values in his local community and to support all legislation and policy that sides on individual freedoms.

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