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Editor's Notes

Why Spotlight PA is spending a year investigating Pennsylvania’s redistricting process

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Spotlight PA — an independent, nonpartisan newsroom covering the Pennsylvania state government and urgent statewide issues — is dedicated a year and a reporter to investigating the redistricting process. To support this effort, become a member of Spotlight PA at https://www.spotlightpa.org/donate
TIM TAI / Philadelphia Inquirer

In 2021, a handful of politicians will wield power over one of the most consequential and overlooked aspects of our democracy: redrawing Pennsylvania’s political districts.

They can dictate who belongs in their districts, and who doesn’t; who keeps their seat, and who loses it; and who gets representation, and who gets left out. And all of that has ripple effects.

Whoever controls redistricting — a process undertaken every 10 years after new census data is released — can lock in political power for years to come. And that ultimately dictates which issues get attention, which laws get passed, and which constituents get heard — or ignored.

The potential conflict of interest in the process is clear: Those making the decisions have a personal stake in the outcome. If no one is watching, there are countless ways politicians can manipulate and gerrymander districts to give themselves and colleagues an advantage, limit voter choice, and predetermine the makeup of the legislature, and congressional delegation.

That’s why Spotlight PA is dedicating a full-time reporter, Marie Albiges, and the entire year to covering redistricting and the census.

This is critical public-service reporting, and we need your support to help cover our costs this year. Become a member of Spotlight PA now and be the one to put us over the top by visiting spotlightpa.org/donate.

Thank you to the many generous individual contributors who have already stepped forward so far, as well as our partners that have also joined the effort, including PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLive/The Tribune-Review, WITF Public Media, Lehigh Valley Public Media, and Votebeat.

As part of our extensive coverage, we’re taking a hard look at how Pennsylvania elected officials have used their power in the past to manipulate their districts for political gain, and holding them accountable if they try to do it again this cycle.

We’re listening to communities who have been affected by gerrymandering, who feel like they were artificially and unfairly split up, simply so one party could get a leg up. We’re examining the real, tangible consequences of gerrymandering in neighborhoods, small towns, and cities.

And we’re explaining every step of the process, empowering people with the tools and knowledge they need to make sure their voices are heard in 2021.

In the past, redistricting has been done largely in the dark, with a handful of powerful lawmakers — aided by highly paid consultants and lawyers — designing maps to benefit their party while minimizing the voices of certain voters. Without access, the public is unaware of the problem.

In 2018, the state Supreme Court agreed with the League of Women Voters that the 2011 congressional map — drawn by Republicans and supported by some Democrats — was gerrymandered in such a way that “members of entire communities are denied a right to cast a vote that has any meaning.”

Those communities deserve to know what their lawmakers will be thinking when they draw new maps this year. Will they draw district lines to preserve like-minded communities or create highly competitive districts? Will they prioritize their own self-interest or the interests of Pennsylvanians?

Every step of the way, Spotlight PA will be there to demand answers to these questions and provide essential, public-service journalism on a process and outcome that will reverberate for years to come. The health of our democracy depends on it. Please become a member today at spotlightpa.org/donate.

Christopher Baxter is the executive director and editor in chief of Spotlight PA.

WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Spotlight PA's vital investigative journalism depends on your support. It's that simple. Contribute now.