Advancing Redistricting Reforms

I’m pleased to partner with Senator Boscola in reintroducing bipartisan legislation to change how Pennsylvania’s election maps are drawn.

These proposed reforms come after countless meetings over many months with citizens and advocacy groups from across the Commonwealth.  I carefully listened to why people supported bills last Session to establish an independent citizens’ commission to draw maps for both the General Assembly and Congress.

Additional input came from nearly seven hours of public hearings of the Senate State Government Committee, which I chair.  This feedback was key to a compromise I crafted.  When offered last year, my plan was called an important step in putting citizens in charge of redistricting.  While no one got everything they wanted, most agreed it was a good starting point.

The current legislation Senator Boscola and I have introduced picks up where we left off.  It’s the same bill advanced last year – minus a provision to change how judges are elected.

I remain committed to reform – real reform, not red reform or blue reform – but, real – purple – reform.  Reform – like a journey of 1,000 miles – begins with a single step.

I’m pleased the Senate State Government Committee has taken that first step by advancing the Boscola/Folmer bill this session.  While additional work is needed, I’m happy to continue the fight to put citizens in charge of redistricting.

However, I’m less than thrilled to be asked to revisit recommendations that would take us backwards rather than forward.

In particular, I have problems with proposals to require random selection to choose citizen commissioners to an independent redistricting commission.  In my opinion, random selection is bad public policy.

Throughout our history, we’ve turned to the best and the brightest to lead.  Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution gives the Legislature responsibility for enumerating election districts.  Random selection abdicates this responsibility.

Random selection by computers really isn’t random.  Computers aren’t able to generate a truly random number on their own – let alone selecting names or drawing maps.  They must be told how to make random selections.

Advocates of random selection insist bias can be eliminated through algorithms – instructing computers to do tasks like GPS determining the shortest route between two addresses.

However, algorithms are written and maintained by humans.  Programmers may intentionally or absentmindedly incorporate biases into their algorithms, resulting in reinforced and/or magnified human prejudices.

Academics and experts have long warned about “algorithmic bias” as computers look for trigger words, which can result in racial, gender, socio-economic, political, or other biases.

Plus, once an algorithm is developed, there is no way of knowing the reasons behind outcomes.  It’s a computer generated black box.  There is absolutely no openness, transparency, or accountability.

Advocates of random selection also insist on the need to include other factors in the so-called “random selection” process – things like geographic, gender, and racial diversity.  However, including any non-random data for statistical purposes results in “sample selection bias”:  some data is treated differently, which distorts results.

As someone who takes his oath of office seriously and as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, it’s my responsibility to ensure we’ve done – and will continue to do – our due diligence according to both the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions.

This has sometimes meant asking questions some people don’t like.  It means dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s to ensure any proposed constitutional amendment is properly vetted.  Most importantly, it means getting answers to questions that have been raised.

I believe we’ve worked to fulfill these responsibilities and I’m looking forward to continued deliberations to advance redistricting reform in the weeks and months ahead.