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Redistricting Hearing: A Look at Democracy in Action Comes to Duquesne University

The political drama of redrawing the state’s political maps will come to the Duquesne University School of Law on Wednesday, Sept. 14. From noon to about 6 p.m., the Legislative Reapportionment Commission will hold its only public hearing in Pittsburgh about redistricting. These hearings will be in Rooms 302 and 303 of the law school.

“It is a great honor for Duquesne University School of Law to be selected to host the first public hearings of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission,” said Dean Ken Gormley, who served as executive director of the commission in 1991-92 and wrote a book on the subject.

“Every 10 years, a special commission is set up, according to the Pennsylvania Constitution, to redraw the state senate and representative districts,” Gormley explained. “The commission charged with this important duty is holding a small number of public hearings to receive citizen input concerning drawing these districts in order to represent, fairly, the diverse population of the region and state. This is a wonderful example of democracy in action. We are honored to host these important hearings.”

Pennsylvania’s population is constantly shifting, requiring the re-drawing of state senate and legislative seats every 10 years so that each citizen’s vote is worth roughly the same, regardless of which district he or she lives in within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

With population shifting to and from geographic areas across the state, the commission is looking at reconfiguring legislative districts across the commonwealth. As a result, political district boundaries will be adjusted to reflect numbers of residents in a geographic area and the types of communities there.

“This is one of the principal purposes of the U.S. Census, though other purposes for the census have been added over the years,” explained Dr. Michael Irwin, a demographer and associate professor of sociology. “The idea is to create representation that actually represents places in the U.S. ….The background criterion is that you need a certain number of people to be represented.”

The political intrigue grows as political parties try to draw district lines that essentially give their party an edge—a long-utilized process known as gerrymandering.

However, two of Irwin’s students, Tim O’Brien and Katelin Lambert, who graduated in May, have researched the most efficient ways of congressional redistricting. They found, “Every 10 years, legislators strategically manipulate maps during the redistricting process, creating politically safe districts for members of their party. The American electorate is unable to exercise true accountability through the vote due to gerrymandering practices, during redistricting, by the state legislatures.”

Their research defines the issue as one of accountability. “The goal is not to make districts perfectly congruent with all criteria, but to prevent the use of criteria to gerrymander districts to protect incumbents or favor a political party.”

The poster resulting from their work, which looked at the geographic compactness of new districts, resulted in a poster that won the Provost’s Outstanding Scholarship Award at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Although those testifying before the committee already have been selected, the public is welcome to watch this political drama rooted in democracy.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.