Vote "NO" on SB 22 — The Folmer Redistricting Plan

Unfair, partisan redistricting — also known as gerrymandering — is a major barrier to creating a political system in Pennsylvania that responds to the will of the people. We need district lines for both Congressional and state legislative elections drawn to create fair elections, not lines drawn by the legislators either to protect themselves from any challenge or to insure that one party gets more seats than they deserve.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 22 (SB 22), a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution written by Republican Senator Mike Folmer, is not the reform of Pennsylvania’s broken system of redistricting it purports to be. Instead, it would make it even easier for the majority party in the General Assembly to draw lines to benefit itself.

We see four major problems with SB 22 (and all rumored amendments to the bill, at this point, will not fix some of these fundamental problems):

1. The commission created by the Folmer plan is not independent at all. The process by which the commission is chosen contains none of the barriers that limit political control over redistricting found, for example, in the California plan. Instead the General Assembly will appoint the members of the “independent” commission.

2. The Folmer proposal gives the General Assembly far too much control over the redistricting process, weakening the checks and balances on its power conferred under the current procedures for drawing Congressional and state legislative district lines. Giving the General Assembly more influence on the member of the redistricting commission will, at best, lead to district lines that go too far in protecting incumbents.

3. The Folmer plan might lead to an even worse result as it will often give the majority party in the General Assembly the ability to draw partisan district lines that benefit itself. Think through how the Folmer plan might work in practice and you will discover multiple ways in which a General Assembly can put forward and enact a partisan gerrymander of both Congressional and state legislative districts.

4. The Folmer proposal has no finality. It creates a process that might not lead to new districts at all.

SB 22 is a complicated amendment that we have analyzed in depth. Partly because it is complicated, some people, whose work in favor of fair districts we have long admired, support it. But as the details of the amendment become clearer, numerous organizations have either revoked their support or come out strongly against it.

Some supporters of the Folmer plan praise it for requiring transparency in the process of redistricting by insisting on open meetings and a prohibition against communication with members of the redistricting commission outside those meetings. But as we see, time and again, at every level of government, open meeting requirements are easy for political officials to evade.

Some supporters of the Folmer plan are saying that it at least moves the process of reform forward. But there is no need to pass a terrible plan in the Senate to reach a better plan. And there is much danger in doing so. SB 22 is not only far from our ideal — because it concentrates power in the General Assembly — it is far worse than the system in place now. At a time when Republicans fear Democratic control over redistricting in 2021, there is no reason to accept a bad compromise that reestablishes Republican control.

There are other options that should be considered, but the citizens of Pennsylvania deserve a truly independent redistricting commission. The Folmer plan is a classic bait and switch, promising such a commission but not delivering on that promise.