I'm a bit of a civics nerd and have had many civic-centered jobs. You might say my life's work, from small-town newsman, to state trooper, to soccer coach, have all been kinds of work that revolved around civics and civic involvement. More recently I've held two positions that were similarly related and have led me to an election day adventure this year. I worked most recently for the U.S. Census. It was a wonderful way to get to deeply know not only the place I live, but other places I was sent as an enumerator. I also typically work as a "rover" during elections for Centre County. A rover has a list of precincts to visit morning, noon and night of election day, making sure precincts have support, materials, voting machines that work and the like.
Both jobs, it turns out, provide a raft of blog posts that I promise to get to and they emanate from different ends of the democratic process. Together, viewed in stereo, I think I get a real insight into our democratic system.
The Census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. It supposes, if you're to have a representative democracy, you must first know how many people there are to represent. Then you divide those citizens into somewhat contiguous, equally populated, districts and those folks get to choose their own representative. The more people in, for instance, a state, the more representation in Congress. But here's the thing. People... they just move around all over the place. So you gotta count 'em from time to time. Local elections are a wonder to behold from my perspective. The amount of other civic minded nerds such as myself is kind of charming. "Roving" as I do on election days, I get to meet judges of elections and their staffs of volunteers who care that they do this job and they do it with an attention to detail that is hard to imagine in real life. Therefore, from my perspective, some of the prevailing ideas about voter fraud seem unlikely. That's not to say there are not other ways to skew an election.
Political parties are interested in WINNING elections. They spend a ton of money to do so. And they've discovered that by winning control of state houses in a Census year, their party gets to redraw the voting districts.
But a curious thing happened on the way to the internet. So much information has become available about you, the voter, that partisan politicians can now see where their voters live. And if one side or the other gets a plurality in Harrisburg, they can dissect the districts of their opponents. Politicians can, in this way, systematically rig the election in their favor before election day. For example, Pennsylvania lost representation in 2020. People left. Probably because it rains here EVERY day and people, just spitballing here, would like to actually see the sky. But the fact remains that the districts need to be redrawn every ten years to accurately reflect our rain-soaked polity. So Redistricting is one thing. But gerrymandering is redistricting gone over to the dark side. Last time I checked, something like 39 percent of the voting population in Pennsylvania identified as "republican" and 46 percent identified as "democratic." That leaves out 21 percent of other affiliations. Neither major party has a plurality in Pennsylvania. It's a jump ball.
Here is where partisans, armed with granular voter information, enter the picture to construct favorable districts. It's like playing Monopoly with someone who keeps slipping $500s out of the bank tray. Irksome scarcely describes it. It happens in Pennsylvania. It happens in Texas. It happens in California. ... New York state is really fair about it these days. So, this election day, I'm going to do something about it. I'm cashing in my mileage expense check from Centre County to volunteer for something called Fair Districts Pa.
Fair Districts Pa is a non-partisan movement to create a better voting redistricting process. So I'll be standing around at a polling place in Clearfield on election day taking our case to the voters after they've voted. Stop and see me. Or better yet, make your voice heard by signing my petition! We want to end gerrymandering and replace it with an independent, non-partisan, citizens' redistricting commission and put Pennsylvania back on the path to government of, by and for the people. Democrats and Republicans both endeavor to gerrymander and there is a clear conflict of interest in allowing elected officials to pick their voters instead of allowing voters to pick their elected officials.
Pennsylvania's history has been illustrative of this reality. The Commonwealth had been one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country. We got better maps this time around because Pennsylvanians were paying attention. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that our congressional district map was a partisan gerrymander in violation of the state Constitution and had to intervene again in 2021 after a deadlocked partisan fight.
These rulings did nothing to ensure either future congressional districts or state legislative maps will be fair. Even though regular voters were allowed to testify in these wranglings, the ultimate decisions were made in secret. And with no legislation to address the problem, we have no protections from legislators returning to gerrymandering in the next cycle.
Fair Districts seeks to fix this problem. So sign my petition on November 7th, okay? Having worked in the census, and in local elections, I have have begun to see the need for fair district maps in our state. It is a cold fact that some partisans take voter information and use it for self-serving ends.
If you agree and think Fair Districts is a good idea, gimme a call or an email or leave a comment below. If you wanna help by standing around a local polling place and talking to voters about election integrity, I can arrange a polling place for you. Fair Districts Pa has few volunteers in this area and we could use a few more civics nerds!