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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

On February 4th, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission endorsed a new state House district map that reversed an initial plan to split Horsham Township into two separate House districts.

State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, who represents Horsham, said the LRC listened to the hundreds of Montgomery County residents who asked the commission to reject its plan to split Horsham between two House districts. In Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania achieved the fair redistricting its residents demanded.

The demographics of Horsham

Rep Stephens’s district, the 151st legislative district of Pennsylvania, consists of a community of residents with their roots linked to India and Korea.

The PA Legislative Reapportion Commission, referring to statistics from Dave’s Redistricting, reported that Horsham Township – the greater 151st Legislative District – has about a 13.9-percent Asian population.

“I hesitate to use the word, one broad category of Asian, because Asia is a big continent. Predominantly, in this area, in the 151st, it’s Korean Americans and Indian Americans,” said Rep. Stephens, making the case that district lines must not divide communities.

“Horsham is now once again together,” reported Patch. At a June 2 EMS briefing, State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) who represents Horsham, explained the success story that put racial equity into redistricting in Horsham.

Why this matters

Elections can be lost before a single ballot is cast by the way the district lines are drawn, said Rep Stephens. However, State Representatives are only elected for two years, but these maps and the impact that they will have will last for at least a decade, maybe generations.

As the states redrew electoral districts to reflect the demographic shifts, PA kept in mind a core and critically important principle. The new districts should be for the benefit of the people who live within them and not for the benefit of, or detriment of, any one person. No community must be divided.

Pennsylvania followed the constitutional criteria that the districts “be compact, contiguous, and nearly equal in population”. Rep. Stephens hosted a “Keep Horsham Whole” petition on his website in order to keep that municipality entirely in his district.

How advocacy groups helped

Advocacy groups joined a multi racial coalition in a multi-year initiative to ensure the redistricting effort genuinely reflected the state’s growing diversity.

“The 151st legislative district Indian origin residents of Horsham, Montgomery and Hatfield townships need one voice in Harrisburg, failing which we risk diminishing and diluting our unified voice in the state government,” wrote a concerned citizen to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission in January 2022.

Pennsylvania Voice, a partnership of over 44 state and local-based organizations, has been working towards creating a more accessible, inclusive, and representative democracy over the last few years. 

The disparity in education and economics really stems from the lack of representation, said Salewa Ogunmefun, Pennsylvania Voice’s vision and strategy Executive Director, at the briefing. Success was in making Pennsylvania’s online voter registration system the best in the country, a robust census engagement program reaching over 400,000 BIPOC households, and the registration and mobilization of over 100,000 BlPOC voters.

That process said Ogunmefun, starts with identifying communities that share social, cultural, racial, ethnic or policy interests – and making sure those communities aren’t divided into multiple electoral districts – known as “cracking,” or packed into a single district – known as “packing.”

The Redistricting Process in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts were redrawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Four lawmakers and an independent chair decided where exactly the lines were to be drawn. The state’s congressional districts were decided by the state Legislature and signed into law by the governor.

On the federal level, Pennsylvania now has 17 U.S. Congressional districts, after losing one seat because of demographic shifts. Pennsylvania became less white and more concentrated in and near cities during the past decade.

On the state level, the legislature set legislative districts for the state House of Representatives and state senatorial districts. The number of districts is set by the state Constitution at 203 seats in the house and 50 in the senate with redistricting mandated after the census to reflect population shifts within the state.

Outcomes following PA redistricting

Rep. Stephens was disappointed that Montgomery Township, with 15% Asian population,  was divided under revised legislative maps approved by the state redistricting body.

However, Dr. Nikil Saval, a Democrat, writer, and community organizer from Philadelphia, became the first Indian American elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, representing District 1.

According to South Asian Monitor, Pennsylvania’s Indian-American community has emerged as a critical voting bloc in one of the battleground states in the US presidential election.

Though led by a Republican,  District 151 is claimed by Democrats as theirs. Minorities can call the shots in an important state for the Presidential elections, Rep. Stephens explained in the LRC report.

“While I am a Republican State Representative representing the 151st Legislative District, The Philadelphia Inquirer has labeled the current 151st District as a safe Dem district. Now, you might ask, how can that be? Well, the fact of the matter is since 2016, the following people have won the 151st Legislative District: President Biden; Governor Wolf, twice; Secretary Clinton; Senator Casey; Katie McGinty; Congresswoman Dean; State Senator Maria Collett; every Democratic candidate running district-wide, Josh Shapiro won it twice.” 

That is what reflective democracy looks like.

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Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...