This post is part of a larger series.
So far, I’ve written at great length about the state of inequality in Philadelphia and its many forms. Now I want to change gears to the causes. First, I would like to reiterate that all of the causes boil down to America’s history of racial segregation and discrimination, but this takes many forms.
In my first post in this category, I’ll discuss gerrymandering. If you aren’t sure what gerrymandering is, I’ll give a brief explanation. The party that is in power is in charge of redrawing representative districts periodically, supposedly based on the census. Gerrymandering is the practice of designing districts for governmental representation in order to impact the election outcomes in your own party’s favor. Essentially, it is drawing district boundaries so that your party gains more representatives than it would otherwise, given the same voters. In practice, this means drawing district boundaries that clump together voters from the opposing party into as few districts as possible, while spreading out opposing voters so that they are just barely a minority in as many districts as possible. In this way, your party could win more districts, even though far fewer voters support your party. This post from The Washington Post (and Reddit) explains gerrymandering in the simplest way I’ve seen.
Here’s a fun game—try to put this puzzle together:
Yep, that’s a map of Philadelphia. Well, sort of. Here’s the full map. This shows all of the Senatorial districts for the Pennsylvania government that encompass Philadelphia.
It is incredibly difficult to prove that a district is gerrymandered, but a couple of the districts above are clear cases. Pennsylvania’s other types of districts are similarly strange and suspicious shapes, unfortunately. Take a look at the current maps of districts that fall in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives:
United States House of Representatives:
The results of Pennsylvania’s redistricting is that Democratic voters are heavily disenfranchised, which means voters primarily in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Data from the Pennsylvania Department of State shows that, of the 8.6 million registered voters in the state, 4.1 million are Democrats, 3.3 million are Republicans, 1.2 million are unaffiliated or other.
Despite having significantly more Democratic voters, Pennsylvania is represented far more by the Republican Party in government, as seen below:
Clearly, gerrymandering is at work, and it is very effective. This is a clear affront to democratic representation, and voters in Philadelphia are significantly losing representation as a result.
In a closing note, I want to say that this is not just a problem with Republicans—it just so happens that Republicans control Pennsylvania’s government in many forms and are currently benefiting from gerrymandering. Gerrymandering in all of its forms is a problem. Within the City of Philadelphia, City Council districts are gerrymandered, and these districts are decided by Democrats. There are also surely other regions of the country where Democrats have gerrymandered districts. I want to emphasize that this is a problem regardless of who is doing it.
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that Philadelphians are massively disenfranchised due to gerrymandering. This is a critical piece of why the Philadelphia region is so unequal, because the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and nationally has not enacted policies that benefit vulnerable Philadelphians. To the contrary, their policies harm the most disadvantaged and exacerbate poverty and inequality.
Later, I will explore these policies and how Republican representation has hurt Philadelphia.