Pennsylvania sued over ‘gerrymandered’ congressional districts

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It is a 61-page lawsuit that blasts the way Pennsylvanians vote for congressional candidates or, more accurately, the boundaries those candidates represent.

In its opening paragraphs, the lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court Thursday morning says the outcomes of Pennsylvania elections “are rigged — they are predetermined by partisan actors sitting behind a computer, not by the candidates and not by the voters.”

Even more powerful than the legalese are the pictures of the districts themselves drawn by the GOP-dominated legislature five years ago. Lou Barletta’s 11th stretches from almost New York to almost Maryland and includes parts of Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties.

Charlie Dent’s 15th runs from Hershey to almost New Jersey and includes parts of Dauphin and Lebanon counties.

Most egregious of all may be Pat Meehan’s 7th, which has an outline that looks like Goofy kicking Donald Duck in the rear. It includes a piece of Lancaster County.

But it’s the entire map, according to citizen voters and activist groups who brought the suit, that should get the boot.

“Courts have said to a legislature you can’t do this, you cannot engage in partisan gerrymandering,” said David Gersch, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit. “You can’t put Fred over here and Sally over here because you don’t like their political views.”

Pittsburgh’s Bill Marx, a civics teacher, joined the lawsuit.

“I need to know that my vote actually counts for something,” he said. “When it’s so gerrymandered that I know no matter what, it’s still gonna go one way, then I lose faith in the system and I don’t want to participate.”

Pennsylvania’s League of Women Voters is also part of the lawsuit and wants an independent commission to draw congressional maps.

“It is time to do what is right for Pennsylvania’s voters,” league president Sue Carty said. “Enough is enough.”

But longtime Pennsylvania politicos have seen the cry for redistricting reform before and many don’t buy the premise.

“Redrawing state districts and federal districts is inherently political, so to have this fake message of we want to take the politics out of it, it’s not possible,” insists GOP strategist Chris Nicholas with Eagle Consulting.

Nicholas says the lawsuit is nothing more than whiny Democrats upset over election losses trying to work the refs.

“These folks are running around saying this district looks a little squiggly, therefore it’s gerrymandered. I don’t think that meets any legal definition,” he said.

That’s now up for the courts to decide.

The suit alleges that Republicans “packed and cracked” Democrats when they drew the most recent map. That means they squeezed huge Democrat majorities into five of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats and then diluted Democratic voters among the remaining 13 congressional seats by using a very precise and software-aided pen to draw the districts.

In 2012, only 49 percent of Pennsylvania voters pulled the lever for a Republican congressional candidate, but the GOP captured 72 percent of the seats.

This group says it’s bad and is suing for fear it’ll get worse without judicial intervention.

“There may have been a time when the map makers felt constrained by some sense of decorum or some notion that maybe they shouldn’t look too obvious,” Gersch said. “That’s out the window. This is as raw partisanship as you could possibly imagine.”

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