Redistricting Delayed Is Representation Denied

State Rep. Margo Davidson
Op-Ed by by State Rep. Margo Davidson, 164 District/Delaware County

It’s time again to redraw the lines that make up our congressional and state legislative districts. Redistricting and reapportionment takes place after the census data is counted and delivered, a process that happens every 10 years. The census gives us the necessary data to redraw boundaries for the state’s 253 House and Senate districts and the now 19 congressional districts to reflect how the population has changed over the past decade.

Reapportionment and redistricting are vital to our democracy. The Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution requires substantially equal legislative representation for all citizens in both location and race. It makes sure that everyone is represented equally and that each district conforms to the one person, one vote standard.

Residents must be accurately and equally represented in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. To do that, Pennsylvania must get to work on this process now.

Due to the impacts of the pandemic, we’re actually late getting started. But during a time when almost every tradition has been derailed because of COVID-19, this isn’t a surprise. As Democratic Chair of the House State Government Committee, I recently had the privilege of co-hosting a joint hearing with the Senate State Government Committee to hear testimony from U.S. Census Bureau officials and redistricting experts. They say this year’s census data won’t be delivered until late September, a delay of six months. But while we wait for that data, we can and must continue to move forward with this process.

Those who testified at the hearing said there are things Pennsylvania can and should do now. Today we can and must establish the state reapportionment commission, pick its chair, publish the website and schedule hearings. We need to do these things as soon as possible because if we wait much longer, everything will be done at the last minute. A process as important as this cannot, and should not, be rushed at the end.

When the pandemic first hit our state, the General Assembly adapted. We quickly worked together to implement new rules to allow us to operate from remote areas so we didn’t all have to gather in the House chamber and risk community spread. In a year where we’re used to doing things different than usual, it’s not only plausible that we can get started on the redistricting process now with preliminary data, but it’s also necessary.

The state Legislative Data Processing Center noted the six-month delay in census data would push the final certification of the new maps to the second half of May 2022. To help accommodate candidates that year, I and the House Democratic Caucus support Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman’s suggestion to move the May 2022 primary to a later date. That will give the legislature enough time to draw, submit, and have the maps certified. That will also give candidates enough time to know which district they would represent and file official candidacy paperwork. Moving the 2022 primary, however, is not the single solution.

We have an obligation to Pennsylvanians to make sure this process is done in an efficient, fair and transparent manner. Redistricting has already been significantly delayed by the pandemic. We need to make sure it’s not delayed any further because we didn’t act when we could and should have. It’s time to get to work.

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