Recommendation to Ensure Fair State House and Sena
I am Marian Moskowitz, Chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners and Chester County Board of Elections. Thank you for this opportunity to share my views on the upcoming redistricting of Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts. By way of background, I’ve been a Chester County Commissioner since January, 2020 and have served in many volunteer roles in the County and statewide including the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the Chester County Economic Development Council. And I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of free enterprise having partnered with my husband to create businesses employing more than 450 people. So why am I committed to fairness in redistricting and want you to ensure the same? My experiences in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds have taught me that economic well-being and good public policy is dependent upon a system of transparent rules by which we all play. When those principles are manipulated to benefit one group or another, our faith in the whole system is endangered. Indeed, the practice of drawing legislative boundaries to favor one party or reduce the influence of certain voters is a fundamental assault on our system resulting in a political monopoly antithetical to our democracy. And both parties do it resulting in districts that are less competitive, push candidates to support party over policy, and result in polarization instead of problem solving. Studies confirm that gerrymandering contributes to our current hyper-partisanship. While gerrymandering has been around for a long time, sophisticated software has allowed both parties to take the practice to a whole new level causing notable increases in gridlock. And that gridlock has a direct effect on places like Chester County and governments across the Commonwealth. According to the Pennsylvania Economy Leagues' 2017 Communities in Crisis report, outdated state codes stymie economic growth in our cities. Ten years earlier PEL analysis warned that more municipalities were falling into fiscal distress due to state laws that mandate out-of-date and often expensive rules, offer few incentives to collaborate to gain efficiencies, and limit local governments to revenue streams that are largely inelastic, capped and out-of-sync with budget needs (1). During the fifteen years since these calls for change, little has been done by the Legislature to address these issues with the negative consequences continuing unabated. Sadly, I, along with local officials throughout Pennsylvania routinely face the consequences. At the same time, some business leaders may feel that a gerrymandered legislature led by Republicans better serves their interests. However, that control has not addressed many economic issues ranging from budgeting and pension reform to investments in economic development and tax reform. The Commonwealth continues to rank among the worst states to do business and has seen a steady decline in entrepreneurial investments. Unaddressed state workforce and quality-of-life issues – such as struggling schools, the brain drain, and technical training [our PA community colleges rank last in the US (2)] – are driving away companies like Amazon. In the 2010 redistricting, Chester County was the victim of some of the nation’s worst examples of gerrymandered state legislative districts. These ranged from the “cracking” of Phoenixville into two separate districts to the snake-like 158th District which split half of West Goshen Township and combined it with communities along the Maryland border some 20 miles away. With a population of about 500,000 in 2010, Chester County should have had seven state House districts, but was carved into nine, four of which crossed into other counties and split communities. And as for the Senate, we should have had two districts, but instead we were cut up into four only one of which was wholly in Chester County. Sadly, the purpose of these indefensible lines – suspicious in design even to a novice – was to gain political advantage. Perhaps even worse was the division of school districts. For many Chester County communities, and people across the Commonwealth, schools represent a unifying force that often defines our communities and shared interests. Yet, all but two Chester County school districts were divided up by state legislative district lines, some three and even four times. Again, all of this to ensure political advantage without regard for community needs. As an elected official responsible for elections and a host of services in our County, and during my years of work in economic development, I saw first-hand how the extreme gerrymandering of Chester County confused voters, stalled work to achieve policy reforms, and made our efforts to access state and federal resources more difficult than necessary. You have the power to prevent this from happening again and restoring public faith in our system of government. You’ve already taken significant steps forward including counting incarcerated persons in their home communities as statute directs [Title 25, § 1302 (a) (3)]. I applaud your courage in taking this action, but I also urge you to do the following: 1) When drawing districts, start with a blank map with no predetermined lines or efforts to protect or punish certain legislators. And do not use political data except to test that the districts are not inadvertently gerrymandered. 2) Given the importance of the “one-man-one-vote” principle, population equality is essential. The practice of allowing districts to have as much as a five percent deviation from the target average district population presents a serious opportunity for manipulation. Do not allow population deviations to exceed one percent above or below the average. This should be among your highest priorities when drawing the lines. 3) Keep communities and school districts whole unless absolutely necessary and provide an explanation to the public if you decide not to do so. And under no circumstances should precincts be split. 4) Consult publicly with experts on the best ways to ensure racial equity and adherence to the Voting Rights Act. Communities in my county such as Coatesville, Kennett Square, and Phoenixville should not be divided to reduce their majority-minority influence. 5) Be mindful of geographic features that represent natural borders for districts. In some regions that means running lines along a mountain ridge rather than over it and recognizing major rivers as natural boundaries. For example, in northern Chester County the Schuykill River is a well-established border and districts should not incorporate communities on both sides of that river nor should communities like Phoenixville and Pottstown be split or placed in a district so as to reduce their citizens’ influence. 6) Communities of interest should be considered. For example, Chester County produces more mushrooms than anywhere in the nation and its growers face unique challenges. It would make no sense to divide that largely local community of interest in southern Chester County into multiple districts. Please use input like this as you set your mapping priorities. 7) Finally, while I congratulate you on making this redistricting process more transparent than any other in my memory, you can do more. While statute requires that you give citizens 30 days to offer comments on your preliminary maps before you vote, please be sure to supply the maps in a format the public can review as well as information about the criteria you used to draw them and why you choose to make county or municipal divisions. Thank you for this opportunity to offer my thoughts and for your work to ensure that our new state legislative district maps are fair. You have it in your power to help restore citizens’ faith in our democracy. (1) Communities in Crisis: The Truth and Consequences of Municipal Fiscal Distress in Pennsylvania, 1970 – 2014, Pennsylvania Economy League, 2017. (2) Emily Rolen, “Of 42 ranked states, Pennsylvania has the worst community college system, report says,” PhillyVoice, August 19, 2019. Adam McCann, “2019s Best and Worst Community Colleges,” WalletHub, August 19, 2019.