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Citizens voice concerns to commission

Unfair, detrimental and unethical were some of the adjectives citizens from the northcentral area of the state used to describe the current system of redistricting in the state.

The comments were part of a discussion facilitated by the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission, which the governor has tasked with studying best practices in nonpartisan redistricting and engaging state residents in discussing the process. Their stop here Thursday was the first in a series across the state.

Commission chairman David Thornburgh said the group was traveling throughout the state to hear from people about what they feel is the most important thing about redistricting.

Arlene Buckman of Tioga County told commission members she got involved with a nonpartisan team in her district because she was concerned about what she saw as unfair redistricting.

“Looking at the map, it appeared to be very unfair – unfair in ways that different cities and townships were actually being divided up and there was no way their needs were being met,” she said.

Redistricting is the process in which new congressional and state legislative boundary lines are drawn, forming districts. The state’s 18 US representatives and 253 state legislators are elected from those districts.

Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled the congressional map that had been in place since 2011 had been gerrymandered in order to favor one party over the other. A remedial map was used for the 2018 midterms and a new one will be drawn after the 2020 census.

Other state residents participating in the discussion shared a distrust of the state legislature to deal fairly with two bills that have been introduced concerning redistricting.

One man stated that residents from his area were reluctant to sign a petition favoring the bills because they didn’t trust Harrisburg.

Another woman from the State College area said she felt that gerrymandering encourages lower voter turnout.

“I think we had better draw lines where people vote with their neighbors and the people of their own communities. There would be a lot more buzz and a lot more interest in the candidates that are running,” she said.

The polarization of politics that affects the gerrymandering process was the concern of another man involved in the discussion.

“If we can’t change this, which is so blatantly unethical, then there is really something wrong with us,” he said speaking to the audience, which was comprised of about 40 people, many of them above the age of 50.

Sue Fulton, who moved to the Williamsport area, told the commission she had moved from an area two hours east of the city and yet she is still in the same district, because of gerrymandering. She said she felt the district is so large it actually puts a burden on anyone running for office.

She shared a story at the prompting of commission member Amanda Holt, of how when before she moved she had an issue she wanted to discuss with former Sen. Thomas Marino. When she called his office, she was told that she would have to travel to Williamsport in order to speak with him and that there was no guarantee he would be in his office if she did come.

“So I ended up not coming for a face-to-face conversation,” Fulton said. “Being that far away is difficult. You don’t have the level of service you might hope to have from your congressman.”

“The good news is we are just beginning the public meeting process, which also means we are going to get a very rich set of comments along the way, which makes our job interesting but not necessarily easier,” said Thornburgh.

“I think it is helpful to hear from you. We have a certain amount of power and a certain amount of air time and we have to decide how to put that to work,” he added.

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