Lehigh County woman helped upset proposed state reapportionment map
By day, Amanda E. Holt is a mild-mannered 29-year-old piano teacher and self-employed graphic artist. But in her spare time, she's a crusader for fair representation who upended the General Assembly's now-illegal reapportionment plan for state House and Senate districts, showing what one citizen, some maps and a lot of hard work can do.
Ms. Holt, of Upper Macungie in Lehigh County, offered a rival reapportionment plan as part of a court challenge to the plan created by the five-member state Legislative Reapportionment Commission. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Ms. Holt and several other plaintiffs Jan. 25, then issued its opinion Friday, detailing the problems with the reapportionment plan that led the court to rule it invalid and order the commission to come up with a new one.
"The Holt plan is powerful evidence indeed," wrote Chief Justice Ronald Castille in the opinion. "This powerful evidence, challenging the Final Plan as a whole, suffices to show that the Final Plan is contrary to law."
Ms. Holt said she became interested in how those political lines are drawn before the November 2010 elections.
"I couldn't figure out why people who lived in close proximity, friends who lived close by, were divided between so many representatives and senators," she said. "It led me to answer that 'why?' question ... and create the maps."
So, working an hour or two each day -- and as much as 10 hours a day while preparing to testify before the Reapportionment Commission and then the court -- Ms. Holt single-handedly devised her own maps to create "an impartial and nonpartisan way to create districts that met the rules," she said. She created a website, www.AmandaE.com, to present her findings.
People should care about reapportionment, she said, because it determines whether a community -- and, ultimately, a person -- is adequately represented. Fair representation is at the heart of why the United States was created at all, Ms. Holt said, because American colonists fought a war for independence from England in part due to a lack of representation.
"When the place you live is fractured and split between different districts, that dilutes your representative voice," she said. "The result is your representation suffers and so your interests are not given their constitutionally protected weight."
When Ms. Holt was called at a hearing Nov. 19 before the Reapportionment Commission, Chairman Stephen J. McEwen Jr. praised her work and recalled her original testimony in Allentown in September. "We commended you at that time for an especially far-reaching, specific map," he said.
She later appeared before the state Supreme Court to present the plan that she -- and ultimately, the court -- believed followed the reapportionment rules set out in the state constitution.
Ms. Holt's plan, the court said in its opinion, showed that the state's political boundaries could be drawn so that far fewer towns and wards were divided between different representatives, as required by the state constitution.
And unlike previous plaintiffs who failed because they focused on the impact of past plans on their particular political subdivision, such as a ward or borough, Ms. Holt analyzed the Reapportionment Commission's plan as a whole, according to the court. She also proved that it violated the law because it "contains numerous political subdivision splits that are not absolutely necessary," the court said.
"Furthermore, in their challenge, the appellants have shown that the LRC could have easily achieved a substantially greater fidelity to all mandates" including compactness, contiguity and integrity of political subdivisions, the court said, "yet the LRC did not do so in the Final Plan."
In creating her alternate map to reduce the number of split communities, Ms. Holt did one thing that legislators did not: She ignored political considerations meant to help the party in power.
"Looking at [the LRC plan], you could see they might have been trying to consider other priorities outside of the constitution, such as prior district boundaries or accommodating residences of incumbents," she said.
Commission members must now redraw their maps so that districts are more compact and contiguous.
Charles O'Connor, executive director of the Reapportionment Commission, wrote to the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate to suggest they vote on preliminary plans on Feb. 22.
State House Republicans have filed suit to prevent the use of existing political boundaries in upcoming elections, potentially delaying the April 24 primary. A federal court heard arguments Monday, but the issue has not been resolved.
And Ms. Holt's friends, the ones down the street? What do they think of her mission, accomplished?
Ms. Holt gave a little laugh.
"They all think it's neat I was able to get involved and that average citizens can make a difference in their government," she said.
First Published February 7, 2012 12:00 am