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Fighting for Fair Districts

SCRANTON — Ever wonder why some legislative districts have such a strange shape? Organizers of a rally in Scranton say if you think the political system i...

SCRANTON -- Ever wonder why some legislative districts have such a strange shape?

Organizers of a rally in Scranton say if you think the political system is broken, stopping gerrymandering is the way to fix it.

You might remember learning about gerrymandering back in your high school government class. It's the practice of drawing legislative districts so that office holders have the best chance of being reelected, or to guarantee which party will win.

Some people who want to change the way those districts are drawn rallied on Courthouse Square in Scranton Sunday.

Fighting for Fair Districts

Over the past 60 years, Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district near Philadelphia has morphed into a sprawling, scrambled scrap.

Organizers of the rally in Scranton say twisty, turning boundaries take away the power of the people in a tactic known as gerrymandering.

"This is not only Republicans. This is Democrats that do it as well."

Activists from an organization called Fair Districts PA say there is a long history of politicians from all parties manipulating congressional and state legislative lines as a way to hold onto or gain power.

"You take a group of like voters, and you pack them into a legislative district, and when you do that, all the surrounding districts go the other way," said Dwayne Heisler with Fair Districts PA.

Advocates say when communities are divided, they get less effective representation. For example, North Washington Avenue in downtown Scranton is the boundary between two congressional districts.

But changing the system isn't easy. In Pennsylvania, shifting how lawmakers' districts are drawn would require modifying the state constitution.

Still, activists aim to get the job done before the 2020 census.

"It's gotten worse in the last couple of censuses. We have computer technology now that can parse out how a voting district is going to vote," said Peter Ouelette of Pittston.

The cause appears to be attracting new supporters. Elizabeth Thompson of Ransom Township says she is tired of feeling her vote doesn't count.

"We learned about gerrymandering years ago in school, but they said that was the olden days, and that it's illegal. I didn't realize that it is going on right now," Thompson said.

There is legislation pending in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate, but changing the state constitution requires passing bills in both houses--twice--during separate sessions, as well as having voters approve a referendum.

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