As the redrawing of the Pennsylvania’s district lines approaches, Penn State professor Lee Ann Banaszak has worked to promote a fair and transparent redrawing process.
Banaszak, a professor and head of the Penn State Department of Political Science, is currently on sabbatical — a paid leave for a university professor during a time of study — as she works as a representative for the chair of Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission.
Banaszak is a representative of Governor Tom Wolf’s independent commission that focuses on redistricting reform to prevent gerrymandering — the act of manipulating the boundaries of a district in order to favor an electoral constituency.
Gerrymandering is a “huge” issue American people face, according to Banaszak.
However, this was not a concern she had before she became a representative.
“It’s concerning that we cannot always trust the process of congressional maps,” Banaszak said. “This system needs to be transparent and fair.”
The governor's commission holds nine public hearings across the state and many online surveys to get a sense of public opinion on congressional mapping in Pennsylvania. This information allows the commission to make concrete decisions on what reforms should be taken in relation to redistricting.
Republicans and African Americans were the populations least represented in the opinions of the online surveys that circulated, according to Banaszak.
“We should have a system that meets what the citizens of Pennsylvania want,” Banaszak said. “But we need the opinions of all groups to understand what those wants are.”
The governor’s commission does not advocate for a solution to congressional maps — instead, the commission seeks a broad level of public engagement in addition to a transparent process.
“This system should not be decided behind closed doors, but in a fair and transparent manner,” Banaszak said. “Voters should have a say in the process and should understand why a map was drawn a certain way.”
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According to Banaszak, maps are sometimes drawn where communities felt they were split with no connection in order to suit the interests of politicians.
“I think communities feel disenfranchised,” she said. “Redistricting cannot split municipalities and districts need to be compact and continuous rather than obscure.”
Banaszak has been a huge help to the commission, chair of Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission David Thornburgh said.
“[Banaszak] has been more helpful than anything through the commission,” Thornburgh said. “This is a tribute to her and Penn State that she could find the time to help us.”
Pennsylvania has had districts that “particularly resemble gerrymandering,'' Banaszak said.
In order to combat this issue, Banaszak proposes to have an independent commission to participate in the initial drawing of the maps.
Gerrymandering can determine how much citizens’ votes count, according to Thornburg h.
“Politicians in office abuse and misuse their power,” he said regarding gerrymandering. “We need a system people can trust.”
Congressional maps are drawn after the conclusion of the U.S. Census — with the next map drawing scheduled for 2021.
These maps are dictated by a group of five people, including the state House majority and minority leaders and the state Senate majority and minority leaders, according to Justin Villere , chief of staff for “Draw the Lines PA”.
The fifth person is decided by a unanimous vote among the leaders in each legislative house.
If the four members cannot agree on a fifth person, the decision is made by the state Supreme Court.
“Democrats and Republicans can’t collectively decide that the sky is blue, so this process can be very challenging,” Villere said.