With respect to Gerry…

Times Observer reporters take stab at drawing congressional districts

Our Congressional map. #MakeTheMapGreatAgain.

It’s truly an irony of American history that we have a signer of the Declaration of Independence to blame for the birth of gerrymandering.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was one of the signers of both the Declaration and the Articles of Confederation.

He refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include a Bill of Rights.

When the Constitution was enacted without his signature, Gerry was subsequently elected to Congress and shepherded the Bill of Rights through to passage.

While serving as governor of his home state, Gerry reservedly signed off on partisanly-drawn Congressional district maps that favored his Republican party.

A Federalist newspaper seized on the shape of one of the districts, compared it to a salamander and the term was born – gerrymandering.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (and not reading our newspaper… which you’re clearly doing now), the term has been in the news.

The Pa. Supreme Court deemed the current map unconstitutional and Gov. Tom Wolf has rejected a counter-proposal from Republican leaders in the General Assembly.

While the updated map is clearly less flagrant than the original, it’s still gerrymandered to the moon and back.

Rather, it’s essentially the original map – the pig – with lipstick applied.

That got us – well, Brian Ferry and myself – thinking about the map.

There are a few things we have to acknowledge before we explain our low-budget ($0) attempt at map drawing.

One, you have to split some counties. Allegheny County and Philadelphia County absolutely have to be split and it’s also unavoidable in the southeastern corner of the state – Montgomery, Bucks, etc.

Two, going into this we didn’t really know the political layout of the state outside of the NW corner, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Obviously, there’s a lot of red in between but there also aren’t that many people in the areas that are red.

Three, the average size of a Congressional district in Pennsylvania is 710,000 people. All of our districts come in between 690,000 and 730,000.

Four, we didn’t draw down to the municipal level. We drew some arbitrary lines denoting a specific amount of people that needed to be moved into a district. We’ll denote where we did that.

Fifth, our premise – Could a map be drawn based on population – without consideration to party politics – with contiguous county borders that doesn’t look like Goofy is kicking Donald Duck?

As it turns out, we think it can.

The western half of the state is pretty easy to work with. The only county splitting we did in the western portion is around Allegheny County.

We gave Pittsburgh plus a portion of Allegheny County to a portion of Westmoreland. The rest of Allegheny is a district on its own.

Cambria sticks out on its own – though it is connected to Westmoreland to a higher degree that some districts in the current map are joined.

What makes meeting our premise a challenge is the southeastern portion of the state.

We split pieces off of Lancaster, York and Lehigh to make the numbers work.

We put Montgomery, cannibalized in every iteration of the maps (split four times in both the unconstitutional and rejected maps) together with Bucks County and split them in two to form two districts.

Philadelphia County is cut into three parts in the current map and we kept the number of splits.

The map deemed unconstitutional split a total of 28 counties.

The rejected map split 15 counties.

Our map? Eight.

Why did we stick to county boundaries?

We think there’s value to being able to quickly and accurately know who your representative is.

I remember in the pre-2011 drawing of the maps that Warren was jaggedly cut between the 3rd District and 5th District in such a way that when I was in Warren, I was in one district and in another when I drove home to North Warren.

Two miles.

Surely Warren and North Warren have more in common than Warren and Erie.

It seems that looking to include communities who have shared interests whether it be in services, business, etc., is a good thing.

And it turns out that we can follow county lines throughout most of the state.

Obviously, we know why map making isn’t done this way.

It’s partisan.

Maybe it has to be.

I’m an independent. To anyone who knows me, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But I have to say that in light of this next sentence: I can’t persuade myself out of the belief that the Congressional delegation of the state – which has 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans – shouldn’t be lopsided to the Republicans… if our delegation is actually supposed to REPRESENT the people of the Commonwealth.

Once we were done with drawing the map, Brian and I added the numbers of registered Republicans and registered Democrats to figure out how the districts would fall – resulting in an 11-7 Democratic majority based on 2017 voter statistics from the state.

But several of those districts could reasonably flip one way or the other.

The district of which Warren County would be a part?

It would remain Republican – despite the presence of Erie County – with 195,630 registered Republicans compared to 191,041 registered Democrats.

I acknowledge that it’s all about partisan power and that allegiance to party trumps allegiance to those supposed to be represented for the vast majority of our legislators. (And let’s not even get into lobbyists and special interests).

But the maps shouldn’t make it so easy.

They should be a reflection of who we are.

Not who we are as political pawns.