In Pennsylvania, time is running out for redistricting. The midterm elections are fast approaching and voters still do not know who their candidates will be. The candidates do not know which constituency they will represent. This confusion is caused by the political partisanship that rears its ugly head after each census.
It is predictable that each party will push for constituencies that reflect its own interests. At the legislative level, this self-interest is somewhat mitigated by the creation of a bipartisan legislative redistribution commission to produce a fair map. This process is well underway, and while there are still grumbles from senators and state representatives, it is likely to be in place soon.
At the congressional level, the governor has notified that the plan put forward by the Republicans is flawed and, in his own words, unconstitutional. He points to the plan dividing communities to “pick” Republican votes in otherwise Democratic-leaning areas. It also notes that the map “would consistently offer a disproportionate number of seats to Republican candidates relative to the preferences of Pennsylvania voters.” In other words, the lines are drawn to favor Republican candidates for Congress.
If the governor vetoes the congressional plan, the lines will be drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Given the Democratic majority on this ground, Republicans are unlikely to be happy with the outcome.
But we are running out of time. The nomination process is mandated by law to begin on February 15. This means the State Department must have an approved plan in place by January 24, 2022 to print nomination petitions and administer an election that involves a thousand candidates and millions. voters in Pennsylvania.
A legitimate question for the legislator is: Where have you been? They know that redistribution is a mandatory function of government and they have ten years to think about it. The census was completed in 2020 and they have updated numbers for months.
There was no aggressive outreach to citizen groups or academics at this time. Activity has been at the staff level with little interaction between Republicans and Democrats as the process progressed. It’s unfortunate but predictable that the Pennsylvania legislature finds itself rushed at the last minute to deal with one of the most important issues it faces.
At the federal level, President Biden has gone “all in” on voting rights legislation. Pointing to an organized effort to suppress votes in many states, the president has made protecting the right to vote his top priority. Make no mistake: Dozens of states have enacted more than 50 laws that will make it harder for citizens to vote. Party leaders in Georgia can now dismiss and replace election officials if they are unhappy with the election results.
In Texas, election officials are specifically prohibited from encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots.
In Kansas, voters with disabilities are not allowed to request assistance in bringing their ballots to their polling place.
Not only have Republicans turned a blind eye to these slights, they are actively encouraging them. If no action is taken at the federal level, the ability to hold free and fair elections will be compromised by the paper cuts inflicted at the state level.
Biden now actively supports bills in the U.S. Senate that can uphold basic voting rights for all citizens. The John L. Lewis Act and the Freedom to Vote Act provide basic protections for all voters. This includes campaign finance reform, national standards for in-person and mail-in voting, and a citizen effort to ensure fairness in redistricting. The bill would also make election day a national holiday and encourage citizens to vote.
These are concepts that are the basis of our system of self-government. Yet not a single Republican senator backs the package. They are more interested in altering the electoral process state by state according to their political agenda.
It may become necessary for the slim Democratic majority in the Senate to change the filibuster rules to get a vote on these bills.
So be it.
A simple majority vote can change Senate rules to “opt out” suffrage legislation to be exempt from filibuster. It will take all 50 Democrats plus the vice president to make that happen, but protecting the right to vote is worth it.
History will not be kind to those who prioritize short-term political gain over protecting the foundations of our democracy.
Mark S. Singel is a former Democratic lieutenant governor and acting governor of Pennsylvania.