Two Penn State faculty members named to Gov. Wolf's redistricting council

Susan Burlingame
October 04, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lee Ann Banaszak, head of the Department of Political Science and professor of political science and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and Christopher Fowler, associate professor of geography and director of the Peter R. Gould Center for Geography Education and Outreach, have been named by Governor Tom Wolf to the newly formed Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council.

The six-member council, which also includes faculty members from Gettysburg College, West Chester University, and Drexel University as well as a former Philadelphia city solicitor, was created by executive order. It is comprised of experts in political science, geography, mathematics and redistricting and was established to provide guidance to the governor when he reviews the forthcoming Pennsylvania redistricting plan, scheduled for a vote by the legislature later this year.

This is Banaszak’s second gubernatorial appointment; she previously served on the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission, created by executive order in November 2019. The 13-member commission was convened to provide recommendations on reforming the redistricting process. Fowler has been active in “Draw the Lines PA,” a nonpartisan resource for Pennsylvanians who want to end gerrymandering.

“We must bring more fairness and transparency to the redistricting process, so every Pennsylvanian is assured their voice is heard…,” said Gov. Wolf in a recent press release announcing the formation of the council. “The decisions that are made through the drawing of new district boundaries will affect every person and community in Pennsylvania for the next decade. It is one of my most important acts as governor and I take that responsibility extremely seriously.”

Each member of the council brings a particular expertise. Banaszak noted that as a political scientist she brings her research on state politics and voting rolls as well as her experience on the previous commission, where she explored redistricting questions in depth, ran surveys and did extensive public hearings.

Fowler said a geographer’s role related to redistricting involves thinking about space in terms of “how it came to be the way it is. When you start thinking about space as a social construct, as something that emerges from a whole host of practices, you see why it makes sense for a geographer to serve on this council,” he said.

Members of the council meet directly with Governor Wolf, who has charged the group with developing criteria that define what a fair map would look like.

“We are not doing a technical analysis or drawing a map,” Fowler said. “We are trying to lay out a set of rules so that when the governor receives a map from the legislature, he can judge that map based on the criteria we set forward. Members of the legislature will know in advance the type of criteria the governor intends to use.”

“What’s important is to develop criteria for evaluating whether a map is fair or not,” Banaszak said. “Input from the citizens of Pennsylvania will also be vital to that process, so our role is to bring our expertise, review the public input, and then combine those to provide the governor with some sense of how to think about the new map when it comes across his desk.”

Members of the public can submit proposed maps, outline communities of interest, or share comments through the Pennsylvania Redistricting Public Comment Portal.

“Given how important the redistricting process is for the people of Pennsylvania, I’m pleased that Dr. Fowler’s expertise in understanding how geographic boundaries influence political outcomes will contribute toward that effort,” said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “He and Dr. Banaszak will be great additions to the council.”

“I’m not surprised at all that two Penn State scholars have been chosen to advise Governor Wolf on this critical topic,” added Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “​Dr. Banaszak ​has considerable expertise on the topic of redistricting, and Dr. Fowler​'s reputation precedes him in this area, as well. I am proud they are contributing to the democratic process we value and helping Penn State fulfill its land grant mission by serving the public good.”

Coincidentally, Banaszak and Fowler, who had not collaborated before, were recently awarded two grants — one from the National Science Foundation and one from the Russell Sage Foundation — for a multi-year project to examine social and political inequalities in the ways that the voter rolls are maintained. Penn State Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus John McCarthy, as well as Dane Mataic, assistant professor of sociology at North Dakota State University and former Penn State doctoral student, are co-principal investigators on the project, which began in June 2021.

“Penn State is in a remarkable position, both geographically and as a trusted player in governance and representation, to be involved in this effort,” Fowler said. “This is the kind of public facing scholarship and action that is central to our mission.”

“Our appointment to the governor’s council reflects Penn State’s leading role in scholarship and public engagement on issues of relevance to our state and nation,” concluded Banaszak. “Chris and I are honored to be part of the redistricting process. I hope it serves as a model to Penn State students of the ways citizens on the ground can meaningfully impact their democratic institutions.”

  • Banaszak_LeeAnn

    Lee Ann Banaszak, head of the Department of Political Science and professor of political science and women’s, gender and sexuality studies in the College of the Liberal Arts.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of the Department of Political Science
  • Fowler_Chris_EMS

    Christopher Fowler, associate professor of geography and director of the Peter R. Gould Center for Geography Education and Outreach in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Christopher Fowler
(1 of 2)

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 04, 2021