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Chester County Press

Kennett Square Borough to consider resolution targeting gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

03/13/2017 01:56PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Kennett Square Borough Council is considering a resolution aimed at preventing the gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts for political benefit in Pennsylvania. The resolution supports legislation that would result in fair, independent, and nonpartisan redistricting reform.

If Kennett Square Borough Council eventually adopts the resolution, letters of support for redistricting reform will be mailed to lawmakers at the county, state, and federal levels.

Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for the party in power by manipulating electoral district boundaries. Those boundaries are redrawn in Pennsylvania every ten years.

At the March 6 council meeting, Wayne Braffman spoke in favor of the resolution.

According to Braffman, a vice chairman of the Kennett Area Democrats, residents in the community don't have a fair voice in state and national politics because of the damaging impact of gerrymandering.

“Because of gerrymandering, voters in Kennett Square really have no voice in national or state affairs,” Braffman said. “For political reasons, our congressional district is lumped in with all of Lancaster County, and our state districts are dominated by towns in Delaware County. We have little in common with them and our voice is drowned out.”

The term “gerrymandering” was used for the first time in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry redrew that state's senate election districts to benefit his Democratic-Republic Party. One of the districts that was created during the redrawing of the boundaries was said to resemble a salamander, and the term “Gerry-mander” was born. It became a nefarious—and seemingly permanent—part of U.S. politics.

In modern U.S. politics, both major parties have utilized gerrymandering, often to create “safe districts” where the incumbent is protected. One tactic is to dilute the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts, sometimes targeting a specific group based on their political, ethnic, racial, or religious class. Another tactic is to concentrate the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce that party's power in other districts.

Some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the U.S. are located in Pennsylvania, with southeastern Pennsylvania being hit particularly hard.

Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District improbably contains parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks, and Lebanon counties. The City of Reading is encircled by the 6th District, but was placed in with the neighboring 16th Congressional District because it would have made the 6th District too evenly balanced between registered Democrats and Republicans. Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District, meanwhile, is dominated by Lancaster County, a more conservative area.

Fair Districts PA, a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization, is leading the effort to push for redistricting reforms in Pennsylvania.

Kate Young, the Chester County coordinator for Fair Districts PA, said in a statement that every municipal governing body in Chester County is being asked to consider a resolution calling on state legislators to enact fair, independent, nonpartisan redistricting reform this year.

Kennett Square Borough Council could consider adopting the resolution at its next meeting on Monday, March 20.

“This is a statewide effort,” said Braffman. “It's not a partisan thing, it's a good-government thing.”