Redistricting Program Attracts Large Audience

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The redistricting lecture by Prof. Bruce Cain and Representative Daylin Leach drew an enthusiastic audience that packed a large meeting room at the Villanova Conference Center on August 22. The talks examined the gerrymander issue – when the process of drawing voting district lines is used as a tool to eliminate voter choice, and to substitute “safe” seats owned by one or the other political party. Representative Leach, a state legislator from Montgomery County, explained some of the process by which our present voting district lines were set in 2001. Townships were divided in as many as six parts in order to favor one or the other incumbent. Voters were “cracked” – moved away from a district to help the incumbent win reelection – or “packed “ – moved into a district in order to give an incumbent a safe majority. Leach brought with him maps showing the strange outlines of various Southeast Pennsylvania districts, and explained how they came to pass in the partisan redistricting process. Prof Cain, who presides over the Washington D.C. campus of the University of California – Berkeley, provided the long view of redistricting, what the courts require under the Constitution and the doctrine equal protection of the laws, and how Voting Rights Act provisions for minority representation are applied. Cain advises and at times draws district lines for political partisans in California and elsewhere throughout the country. Cain and Leach agree that Pennsylvania has come up with some of the most tortured district maps to be found. They also share the view that the courts are not likely to take any action to prevent political gerrymandering from recurring when the 2010 census results are released and Pennsylvania must again redraw its boundaries for seats in Congress and the State Senate and House. Rep. Leach explained his bill pending in the Legislature to establish a redistricting commission that is separated from political considerations and deliberates in public. A lively question and answer period followed. This event created by JSPAN was also cosponsored by the Montgomery Bar Association, the Committee of Seventy and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. It is the first JSPAN program to be offered as a Continuing Legal Education course.