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Legislature Begins To Tackle Congressional Redistricting, While Many Warn Against Political Gerrymandering

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- The state Legislature is holding hearings this week on how best to draw congressional district lines.

Public attention has increased on what has often been an extremely partisan act of map-drawing. After the census every decade, each state redraws its congressional districts to make them even in population.

But that has often led to some creative map-drawing designed to elect only members of one political party. This year, many groups are saying no to political gerrymandering.

In Harrisburg on Thursday, David Thornburgh, son of the late governor, told lawmakers that Pennsylvania needs a fair and transparent process to draw the state's districts unlike that used by Republicans 10 years ago.

"The districts that were drawn in 2011 were egregiously gerrymandered, and there was no public process or input," Thornburgh, president of the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.

Remember the congressional map of 2011? It contained some of the craziest looking districts in the nation, including one stretching from the Ohio border to Johnstown.

It was so bad that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court imposed its own map that removed all the squiggly lines, uniting counties and municipalities that had been split.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"I am hopeful, and that's the spirit in which I participate in these hearings today, that things will be different this time around," said Thornburgh.

"We have a situation in Pennsylvania right now where legislators basically get to choose their voters, rather than the voters getting to choose their legislators," Maureen Grosheider, president of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, said.

That's why the League of Women Voters created Fair Districts PA, a statewide group that advocates for compact districts that are drawn without looking at political party registration or incumbents.

"Transparency and participation by the public," said Pennsylvania Rep. Wendi Thomas, a Bucks County Republican.

This year, Republican lawmakers, who control the state Legislature, say they will be fair and transparent, adopting recommendations offered by Thomas in her bipartisan House Bill 22, including, she says, "Having a transparent process, having public meetings, allowing for public input, having a website where people can interact."

But expect a change this year. Pennsylvania loses one of its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

And with a Democratic governor with a veto pen, both parties will need to work together unless they want the Court to draw the lines for them.

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