Fair DistrictsPA forum takes on Gerrymandering

Carol Kuniholm, Chair of Fair Districts PA, addressing the audience, Wednesday night at West Chester Henderson High School.

By Eliza Mohler, Staff Writer, The Times

WEST CHESTER – Political strategist Karl Rove once said, “He who can control redistricting can control Congress.” At her presentation Wednesday at Henderson High School, Fair Districts PA Chair Carol Kuniholm used this quote to illustrate the consequences and effects of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and across the United States.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of voter district lines to benefit one party or group over another. While the practice has been happening for centuries, the new technology behind data mapping makes it even easier to accomplish today.

“This is a nonpartisan issue,” Kuniholm said. “Voters are not parties, they are people. In the traditional way of gerrymandering, they are left out of the picture.”

A poster that was drawn and contributed by an attendee at the previous meeting in Montgomery County on Tuesday night, displaying all the topics that were discussed at that forum, including many of the same issue facing Chester County voters.

She then explained different methods of gerrymandering, reviewed a brief history of gerrymandering in the sixth and seventh districts in Pennsylvania, and outlined proposed legislation that is intended to stop the practice in the Commonwealth, which is a large political swing state.

Kuniholm’s talk was attended by a full house in the Henderson auditorium and was presented by Fair Districts PA and the League of Women Voters of Chester County. Both groups strive to change the map drawing process for state and congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

After her presentation, Kuniholm invited the attendees to participate in a Q&A session. A representative from the office of PA State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) announced during the session that Dinniman supports Senate Bill 22, which was introduced on February 16 by PA State Senators Lisa Boscola (D-18) and Mario Scavello (R-40) to establish an independent commission to draw up Pennsylvania’s congressional and state legislative district maps.

The bill would amend the state constitution to establish an 11-member independent commission with four individuals registered with the largest political party in Pennsylvania, four registered with the second-largest party, and three people not affiliated with either major political party.

“That’s three senators and eight representatives to go,” Kuniholm said, adding that State Representative Carolyn Comitta (D-156) has also indicated her support of future initiatives to curb gerrymandering.

After being asked for further comment regarding Dinniman’s support of the bill, his Chester County office issued a statement Thursday:  “I have been a strong and consistent supporter of Senate Bill 22 (including last session when it was Senate Bill 484) because it marks an important and vital step in creating a redistricting process that is independent of political influence. Redistricting was intended to serve the people by ensuring that constituents have adequate representation. Senate Bill 22 will help put an end to the political football game that has become legislative redistricting. It will protect the integrity of government by putting the process back in the hands of the voters so that their interests come first.”

The Fair Districts PA program on gerrymandering will be presented again on Monday, Feb. 27, in Harrisburg, and on Sunday, March 5 in Chestnut Hill. Additional event listings and other information can be found at www.fairdistrictspa.com.

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