Pennsylvania House Republicans want to change how elections and redistricting happen

Written by on January 11, 2022

Pennsylvania House Republicans want to change how elections and redistricting happen

By Sam Dunklau / WITF
January 11, 2022

A change in the makeup of the commission would be a constitutional amendment and would have to be voted into law. (Photo | Amanda Berg / Spotlight PA)

Pennsylvania House Republicans want to change the makeup of the commission that draws state House and Senate districts every decade. 

The House State Government committee moved forward a number of measures aimed at changing elections and the redistricting process on Monday.

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Right now, five people – two legislative leaders from each party and a fifth nonpartisan person they agree on – make up the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. 

But under the GOP proposal, future panels would consist of 11 people: eight citizens hand-picked by the leaders, a Republican and Democrat appointed by the counties, and a former Commonwealth Court judge.

Once the panel approves the maps, the legislature would then need to sign off on the maps without making changes.

State Representative and sponsor Seth Grove of York County says the change puts the public in the driver’s seat.

“It’s a citizen’s commission,” Grove said. “It is the citizens. They’re working on it, they’re creating, they’re deliberating.”

Grove has heavily criticized the current commission, arguing Democrats would unfairly benefit from the draft House map it drew.

Chairman Mark Nordenberg said the map he drew reflects how Pennsylvania’s population shifted over the last decade. 

The measure is a constitutional amendment, one of several majority Republicans are hoping to get on the ballot within the next two years. 

The measure must be approved by lawmakers in two separate sessions – and then by voters. 

A second proposal that passed along party lines would give a legislative support office the job of writing the ballot wording for state constitutional amendments.

The Department of State – which the governor oversees – currently writes those.

State Rep. Joe Webster (D-Montgomery) argues Republicans – who are upset over the way that agency handled a constitutional amendment last year – are trying to wrestle away control for political reasons.

“We’ve spent so much time denigrating government that the executive branch is not allowed to function normally,” he said. “So now, we’re going to presume that people who may have worked there for 20 years are somehow political hacks, and they’re not. We need to let them simply do their job.”

An Inspector General report from last May shows the Department of State unintentionally failed to advertise an amendment that would have let voters weigh in on giving sexual abuse survivors more time to sue their abusers.

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