Racial Equity, Regional Balance, Montgomery County

Dear Chairman Nordenberg and the Legislative Reapportionment Commission: I have been a resident of Montgomery County for the last thirty years, and recognize that many of the decisions that will most directly impact the lives of my neighbors and fellow citizens across the Commonwealth take place in our General Assembly. I am, therefore, concerned that the final versions of our legislative district maps are structured in a way that will provide ALL Pennsylvanians, especially those in marginalized groups and racial minorities, the opportunity to have an equal voice in the selection of their legislative representatives. While the LRC’s draft maps make significant improvements over the district configurations we have had for the last ten years, there are three areas that I ask the Commission to pay particular attention to as you create the final legislative districts and balance the many, often conflicting, priorities of people across the Commonwealth. 1) Racial Equity: Preserving or enhancing district realignments that allow voices of marginalized groups and racial minorities to be heard. Over my time living in Montgomery County, I have worked in local industry, been a public school teacher, worked as an educational consultant across the Commonwealth, directed an educational leadership program at a Montgomery County non-for-profit, and run and taught in the Adult Basic Education/GED program in the Bucks County Corrections Facility. One of the things I have learned by interacting with people from many backgrounds and communities is that everyone has a voice that needs and deserves to be heard, but that some voices are typically silenced. Members of communities of color, in particular, have often had their ability to select their representatives—and, through that choice, impact important issues that shape their lives—diminished. My focus on the need to address this problem and to ensure that we have racially equitable districting is enhanced by my participation in the Pennsylvania Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a group of 40 Commonwealth synagogues that are collectively comprised of approximately 40,000 Pennsylvanians united to work for justice in our society. It was heartening to see that the LRC’s preliminary maps reflect the growth in Pennsylvania’s communities of color and give minority voters more representation than in years past. I greatly appreciate the hard work and effort that went into both creating more equitable maps and making the redistricting process more transparent. I am still concerned, however, that the LRC will face pressure to retreat from the improvements you have made. Please do not give in to those who advocate, for whatever reason, for districts that do not give equal voice to communities of color, and follow through with your commitment to creating minority opportunity districts by ensuring that this feature is preserved, or even enhanced, in the final maps. 2)Imbalance among regions in the Commonwealth: Southeastern PA is not equitably represented in the draft Senate map. The LRC’s current Senate map treats regional and urban vs. rural populations inequitably, penalizing urban residents and minority communities. Over the past ten years there has been a decline in rural/western areas and growth in more central and eastern cities; the LRC’s Senate map does not adequately represent these shifts. In Southwest and Central PA, the map draws many districts with populations significantly below what might be expected, while in Southeast PA, several districts are drawn with populations larger than one would expect. This means that individual voters in Southeast PA have less of a representative voice, an inequity that needs to be addressed. I ask that the LRC please correct this malapportionment and vote dilution by creating more Senate districts in Southeastern PA. 3) The Montgomery County Senate map dilutes the voice of County residents due to community splits and the formation of districts that cross county lines. The current configuration of Senate districts 7, 24, and 44 will diminish the voices of Montgomery County residents since they will become minorities within districts that are largely composed of areas from other counties. Five of the six districts in the current map cross county lines. Please reconsider this plan, and put in place a structure that does a better job preserving our communities of interest, including Horsham and Montgomery County itself. An alternative map, created by citizen-mapper Ruth Yeiser (https://www.redistricting.state.pa.us/comment/submission/1927) provides a viable example of how this can be done. Once again, thank you for your efforts to create fair districts in Pennsylvania. I look forward to finding that you continue taking into account community input and keep the goal of making sure that every voter in the Commonwealth has an equal opportunity to participate in our government as your focus. Respectfully, Linda Block-Love