LEWISBURG — The Supreme Court ruling that Pennsylvania’s congressional map is unconstitutional was considered only one small victory in a continuing war at the Reclaim Our Democracy Rally in downtown Lewisburg Saturday afternoon.
The crowd of approximately 30 people held signs praising the ruling while letting it be known they won’t stop fighting until they believe a balanced congressional map has been created.
Nicole Faraguna, of Fair Districts of PA-Susquehanna Valley, garnered cheers from the crowd outside the Lewisburg Post Office after stating she doesn’t want Democrats gerrymandering anymore than she wants Republicans doing it.
The theme of the rally was removing redistricting from the hands of politicians and putting power in the hands of a citizen commission supported in proposed House Bill 722 and Senate Bill 22. The bills would create a commission of four Democrats, four Republicans and three Independents with no connections to political candidates, elected officials or lobbyists that will create a redistricting plan and map.
The House bill has 109 sponsors and the Senate bill has 18, bringing the support to just over half of the General Assembly. However, Joe Manzi, of Fair Districts PA, said the bills have yet to get a vote because opposing legislators won’t allow them to get out of committee.
“The powers that be don’t want this. It threatens them and it threatens their ability to create and maintain their own party,” said Manzi.
Gerrymandering destroys democracy, he added, noting Democrats and Republicans create districts in their majority states that favor their party, keeping incumbents in office and making it more difficult for voters to have options at the polls.
Lack of competition
Drew Bingaman, of Sunbury, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania, said most districts across the state aren’t competitive when it comes to elections.
“In many of these cases, a third party or Independent ends up being the only challenger because the (minority) party doesn’t even bother putting someone up against (the majority),” said Bingaman.
Unopposed incumbents aren’t newsworthy and are held less accountable because no one is challenging their voting records and policies, he said, which is why he believes it’s important for districts to provide a more equal opportunity to encourage others to run for office.
Voting is at an all-time low, according to Bingaman, who said less than 50 percent of eligible voters turned out for the last presidential election. Breaking that down even further by subtracting Hillary Clinton’s percentage of the vote and third-party candidate votes, he said President Trump is ruling with less than a quarter of votes from registered citizens.
“Fair districts will help change that and bring more diversity in with third parties,” said Bingaman, noting even if third parties don’t win, they can create dialogue on topics the two larger parties aren’t discussing and provide a protest vote.
Faraguna, of rural Herndon, said gerrymandering and redistricting are one of those “wonky political issues that people glaze over when you talk about it,” but that it’s very important.
With Republicans holding office throughout the state, Faraguna said she understands Saturday’s protest could be painted partisan, but she said she has also opposed Democrats who “gerrymandered the heck out of Maryland.”
Mary Zimmerman, president of the Lewisburg League of Women Voters, told the crowd that if a nonpartisan commission isn’t formed to redraw the map, they will have to return in 10 to 20 years to fight against gerrymandering done by Democrats.
With Pennsylvania the modern poster child for gerrymandering, Zimmerman encouraged attendees to contact their legislators to demand support of HB722 and SB22, again noting that the Supreme Court decision was a magnificent victory, but only the first step.