Increasing BIPOC Representation in the PA Senate

To the Members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission: I appreciate the opportunity to once again share my views with you about the redistricting of the PA Senate map. I presented testimony to the commission live via Zoom the afternoon of January 7. The efforts the LRC has made to solicit and consider input from the public during your work is both refreshing and commendable. I have some additional comments to make about the PA Senate map, but before I do, I want to reintroduce myself. My name is William Madway. I’m a lifelong Pennsylvania resident. I’ve spent most of my life in Montgomery County; I also spent a number of years living, going to college and grad school, and working in Philadelphia. My professional experience includes marketing research, communication, entrepreneurship, teaching college, and advocacy. I’m speaking on behalf of one of the organizations I volunteer with, the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism or RAC-PA. We are the social justice arm of the 40 Reform Jewish congregations in Pennsylvania, which can be found in over half the counties across the state. We seek a world in which the core values embraced by the Reform Jewish Movement – justice and equality for all – are reflected in society and public policy. As I mentioned in my earlier testimony, to achieve our vision, we build coalitions with allied communities and organizations at the forefront of driving societal change. After meeting with dozens of community groups and conducting a listening campaign with Reform Jews across the state, we decided to work on the state legislative redistricting process in collaboration with Pennsylvania Voice and Fair Districts PA. Our desired outcomes are an end to partisan gerrymandering and more opportunities for People of Color to have their voices represented in the General Assembly. After evaluating the LRC’s proposed PA Senate map with our partners, we concluded that although this map is more compact and has fewer jurisdictional splits, it does little to expand minority representation. Moreover, there appears to be a systematic bias at work with the population deviation figures. Simply put, many of the districts with state prisons, as well as districts in Central PA and Pittsburgh and other portions of Southwest PA, are well below the ideal population, while districts in Philadelphia and other Southeast PA counties are far above the ideal number. As a result, the map drawn by the LRC dilutes the voting power of the fastest growing, most diverse regions in the state, thereby increasing the voting power of regions that have lost population. We believe that much can and should be done to correct these inequities. Through my own research of the maps and testimony submitted to the LRC, I discovered a map designed by Ruth Yeiser, a citizen mapper from Montgomery County who volunteers with Fair Districts PA (see The “RY" map addresses both of the issues I just described. It creates 7 majority-minority districts, including one open Hispanic opportunity district in Philadelphia. This map also reunites Allentown to create a district that is just shy of a 30% Hispanic VAP. At the same time, the map creates an open district in the Reading area that has a Hispanic VAP of just over 30%. Owing to these changes, the RY map has a Minority Representation score of 68 according to Dave’s Redistricting App (DRA), compared to only 51 for the LRC’s Senate map, only a slight improvement from the score of 47 for the current Senate map. The RY map also does a very effective job of addressing the population deviation problem. As a result of Ms. Yeiser’s work, her map achieves an overall population deviation level of just under 6.5%, a significant improvement from the LRC-proposed Senate map, which has an overall population deviation of nearly 10%. In addition, Ms. Yeiser’s map is more compact (DRA score of 64 vs. 53 for the LRC map), and has a better score on jurisdictional splitting (68 vs. 63). I feel honor-bound to point out that under Ms. Yeiser’s map, residents of my county, Montgomery County, the third most populous county in the state, will fare considerably better. Currently, Montgomery County is divided into six districts, with all of the districts consisting of voters from one or two other counties. The LRC-proposed map makes modest improvements; Montgomery County is still divided into six districts, but now, one fewer district contains voters from other counties (vs. all six currently) and none contain voters from two counties (vs. two currently). Ms. Yeiser’s map only divides Montgomery County into four districts and only two are shared with another county. As a result, the residents of Montgomery County will have a stronger voice in the PA Senate. But that is not the reason I support Ms. Yeiser’s map. In fact, under her map, the Senate District I reside in, the 17th, will still consist of residents from Delaware County. I am more than content with this, knowing the significant gains in fairness it offers our state’s BIPOC residents and residents of Southeastern PA overall, whose voting power will more closely match their population growth. In summary, Ms. Yeiser’s well thought out map largely addresses the shortcomings of the current Senate map, going beyond the improvements made by the LRC. I see virtually no downside to her map. Some worry that redistricting can disrupt relationships between constituents and the elected official who have served them faithfully for years. In designing her map, Ms. Yeiser made a concerted effort to limit disrupting these relationships, and I would say she has been successful in this regard. I know how challenging the next 30 days are going to be for all of you. You have accepted one of the most important responsibilities one can in our system of government. The progress of Pennsylvania over the next ten years and beyond depends on the decisions the five of you make over the next month. I am confident you will do what is in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians. Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully, William M. Madway