When you have a question about voting, polling places or legislative districts in Centre County, a good place to start is the Elections Office. So, that’s where I began my quest to find the place in the State College area where three state legislative districts come together.
After rolling out a detailed map, Joyce McKinley, director of elections in Centre County, tries to pinpoint the spot.
“The 81st legislative district. It’s surrounded by the 77th and the 171st. That’s Zurich Road and Knob Hill Road, and this is Circleville Road.”
With that information and a map in hand, I joined Tim Dunleavy, a Patton Township resident, and we headed to the place where the three districts meet. Dunleavy is one of those unhappy with what they view as gerrymandered districts.
We made our start in the 81st, at a spot that’s a mix of homes and fields.
“We’re going to take a little quick walk from one to the other, and I do mean quick.”
“We just walked across the street, and we’re on a piece of grass across the street, and we’re now in the 77th district.”
After that, we headed to the 171st district.
“From the bus stop we backtracked and went over toward the bike path. We’re looking out over Circleville Farms, cornfields.”
The three-way divide is a result of the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census. Dunleavy and others want to see that change in the next round of redistricting.
“This is ridiculous, that essentially we can take a two-minute walk and be in three different districts and divide a community up like this amongst areas that may not have a lot of commonality.”
Daniel Mallinson, assistant professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg, said Pennsylvania is commonly recognized as one of the states with the least compact districts.
“Sometimes, like in State College’s case, the way those districts are drawn breaks up certain communities or populations. So, Pennsylvania has pretty non-compact districts in many different ways of measuring it.”
A key concern is what’s known as cracking and packing. With packing, likeminded voters are packed into the same district. With cracking, like-minded voters from one area are divided among several districts. In that case, Mallinson says, voters can lose power.
“When you break up a community in a district, it can dilute their representation.”
That’s a concern of Debbie Trudeau, who lives in the neighborhood where the three districts meet.
Trudeau had been in the 77th district, but is now part of the 81st. It stretches from the Park Forest area of State College, down through Huntingdon County, where her representative lives, to just south of Interstate 76, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive all together.
“It makes no sense to me. Our state constitution requires that the districts be compact and contiguous, and this is neither of those.”
A member of the Fair Districts PA Centre County leadership team, she is among those pushing for legislation that would put redistricting in the hands of a nonpartisan citizens commission. She wants all elected seats to be competitive.
“Every legislator should wonder if he’s going to have a job after the election. There should be no safe seats.”
For Keystone Crossroads, I’m Anne Danahy.