On Dec. 16, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) released a draft of new state House and Senate district maps for Pennsylvania. Following the release of this draft, Pennsylvanians from all across the commonwealth had the opportunity to submit public comments regarding the LRC’s maps. At One Pennsylvania, along with our partners at PA Voice and Keystone Counts, we were encouraged that the LRC’s process for redrawing our political maps included a degree of public access and transparency. One PA members from across the state participated in the drawing of Unity Maps, a community-driven process that had working-class people of color determine together how their voting districts should be drawn to best represent their communities.
Howard Fisher, a One PA core canvasser from North Philadelphia, was part of one team drawing those maps. “It was an arduous process but, ultimately, the results were good,” Howard said of working with hundreds of community members throughout Pennsylvania to build the maps. “Our canvass team has built meaningful relationships with our communities. So when we told people what redistricting was about and why it was important, you had this moment where people felt included. People were mad and upset when they realized this was going on without their knowledge; that resources, money and political power were being distributed and they had no input.”
The new maps will better allow for Pennsylvanians of color to elect people who best represent their communities and their interests. We were glad to see that the LRC also took steps to curtail the practice of prison gerrymandering, where incarcerated people are counted – for the purposes of redistricting – in the prisons where they are being held instead of where they’re from. This practice effectively robs voting power from their home communities and transfers it to the area where the prison is located.
Most recently, Philadelphia City Council released its proposed district maps in 2022’s first council meeting. These maps will be used for the next three city elections (2023, 2027, 2031) and will have a tremendous impact on how our city will look for years to come. Working-class Black and brown people who are being rapidly displaced by developers and corporate landlords should have a say in how these maps are drawn, especially given councilmanic prerogative.
This applies not only to Philadelphia. In Pittsburgh, an appointed advisory committee is tasked with redrawing that city’s political lines. After seeing a 1% population drop, the committee has worked to ensure that the city’s two majority African American districts are not split.
But in Philadelphia, where City Council has had nearly six months since the 2020 Census data was released to engage the public and gather community feedback, a proposed citywide map wasn’t released until late last month, with only one public hearing for residents to provide feedback scheduled. So far, the proposed mapping plan continues prison gerrymandering in the city, counting thousands of Philadelphians held in city- and state-run prisons instead of back home.
With the battle over democracy and voting rights raging nationwide, we must extend the democratic process in places that have the most effect on our lives: our workplaces, our homes and neighborhoods, and, in this case, the redistricting process. People in Philadelphia should have a say in how their districts look. City Council should be hearing from residents about their neighborhoods and where political boundaries should be drawn. At One PA, we believe that protecting and empowering working people and people of color requires expanding democracy at all levels of government, not limiting it. Philadelphia’s City Council must ensure that residents across the city have a meaningful opportunity to have a voice in the districts in which they are represented.
Alex Rhone is a member of the Pittsburgh core canvassing team for One Pennsylvania.
Kyle Turley is the Southeastern Political Associate at One Pennsylvania.