December 6, 2018 YorkDispatch Gov. Tom Wolf’s redistricting commission wins praise, groans
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order aimed at spurring redistricting reform in Pennsylvania landed with a thud in the Republican-controlled Legislature, even as good government advocates praised the effort.
Following the order late last month, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and House Majority Leader-elect Brian Cutler co-authored a news release in opposition to the order.
The group of legislative leaders called the order “grandstanding” and proclaimed they “will not be props in (Wolf’s) theater that is an attempt to be a make-shift alternative to the federal and state constitutions and will have no practical effect.”
“With no input from the General Assembly, the governor issued an executive order where he turned his back on both the state and federal constitutions and embarked on another go-it-alone strategy,” the statement read.
The leaders added the commission “ignores large swaths of the commonwealth, specifically rural communities, and charged commission members with a responsibility that he does not have the authority to give.”
Support from redistricting advocates: But Carol Kuniholm, chairwoman of Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit volunteer organization that aims to end partisan gerrymandering, said “it’s a shame they’re trying to make it a partisan issue.”
Kuniholm commended the governor for the move, which came Nov. 29, five months after Fair Districts PA protested outside of the governor’s Mount Wolf home.
In July, a group of more than 30 demanded Wolf call a special session so legislators could get a bill passed by July, which was necessary to allow voters to make a choice on the referendum on the 2020 ballot. That never happened.
“I think (the executive order) is very appropriate, and we’re very appreciative of Wolf for doing it,” Kuniholm said. “This is a fair and nonpartisan effort to move forward on something the public has shown their concern about.”
Fair Districts PA has heard plenty of those concerns, as members have been following the state’s redistricting efforts since 2016.
Kuniholm said the new commission is “agood mix of academic, advocates and legislators” and she hopes its input will help both chambers — and parties — come to an agreement about how a commission should be formed to draw district lines.
Fair Districts PA also helped Sen. Mike Folmer, who represents parts of York, Lebanon and Dauphin counties, with his redistricting efforts that were conducted alongside of Democrat Sen. Lisa Boscola, of Northampton County.
Folmer said he has a “nonview” of the executive order, although he said some of the information from the commission may come in handy.
“The governor has a right to do what he wants to do,” Folmer said. “But I wish I would’ve known about it before it was announced. I view it as the governor looking at redistricting and trying to get more information.”
Unconstitutional gerrymandering: The state’s methods of drawing congressional lines took the spotlight in the 2018-19 legislative session after the Supreme Court sided in January with plaintiffs who claimed the state’s congressional lines were drawn to favor Republican candidates.
The court ordered Wolf and state lawmakers to create a new map in time for the May 15 primary, and when they missed the deadline, the justices imposed their own map.
During the following months, Republicans and Democrats battled over reforming the redistricting process, and the chance to get such a bill as a referendum on the 2020 ballot was lost.
But Wolf took it into his own hands with his Nov. 29 executive order creating a commission to study and make recommendations about how to end partisan gerrymandering in the state.
“The goal of this commission is to hear from experts and citizens about what can be done to make this process more fair,” the governor said. “The redistricting process should ensure every citizen’s voice is heard in our democratic process.”
The commission: While the commission won’t have any legislative power, it comes with several responsibilities.
The 15-member commission will be in charge of reviewing redistricting processes in other states, holding at least six public hearings on the matter and then making recommendations to Wolf and the Legislature within 90 days, or by Feb. 27, 2019.
The commission is composed of politicians, voting rights advocates, individuals working in higher education and up to five citizen appointees.
The members of the commission who have been already been appointed by Wolf are:
Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State University
Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez, of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs
Susan Carty, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie County executive
Charlie Dent, former congressman
Amanda Holt, Lehigh County commissioner
Rev. Robert Johnson, Tindley Temple United Methodist Church
Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president of the Urban Affairs Coalition
Wes Pegden, of Carnegie Mellon University
David Thornburgh, president of the Committee of Seventy
Secretary of the Commonwealth Robert Torres, or a designee
In the end, Wolf said, the Legislature still holds the cards when it comes to reform and “will need to stray away from polarization and work together.”
Past failures, hopeful future success: Harrisburg political polarization was at the forefront of the unsuccessful redistricting efforts in the 2018-19 legislative session.
In the House, redistricting efforts were stonewalled after the House State Government Committee, led by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, gutted two Democrat-sponsored redistricting proposals.
The proposals would have created an 11-person citizens’ commission, but that language was removed, instead creating a six-person commission of legislators to draw congressional lines.
In the Senate, a nearly identical 11-person citizens’ commission bill was put forth by Boscola. But the Senate State Government Committee, led by Folmer, amended the bill to create an 11-legislator commission with four Democrats, four Republicans and three independents.
Unlike the House amendments, the more diverse commission proposed in Folmer’s version received support from Fair Districts PA and other organizations.
But in June, the Senate passed a last-minute amendment that also would allow voters to make a choice about judicial district reform on the 2020 ballot. The amendment would divide the state into regional judicial districts, and judges would be elected by region as well.
Fair Districts PA and other organizations, including some legislators, opposed the efforts, accusing lawmakers of stripping away progress on passing redistricting reform. The bill remains tabled in the House.
However, Folmer has just reintroduced a bill that picks up where the redistricting legislation left off but without the amendment regarding judicial districts.
Even if passed, it won’t be able to make it on the 2020 ballot. But Folmer said he is confident legislators will work together this time around.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD. Source:
July 3, 2018 timesonline.com Fair Districts PA asks Gov. Tom Wolf to call special session on redistricting bill
Fair Districts PA has asked Gov. Tom Wolf to call for the General Assembly to return to work on Monday so it can debate and vote on a bill to create an independent commission that would draw electoral maps starting in 2021.
In a Monday letter to Wolf, Carol Kuniholm, the chairwoman of Fair District PA, said “a special session would provide opportunity to begin again with a strong, clean bill.”
Senate Bill 22, which groups opposing gerrymandering initially supported, was passed by the state Senate 35-14 on June 13, but many of those same groups withdrew their backing after Republicans added an amendment to create judicial districts for statewide courts.
Democrats and other critics said that was in retaliation for the state Supreme Court, which is majority Democrat, tossing out Pennsylvania’s previous congressional districts map for unfairly favoring Republicans.
Even if Wolf did call for a special session, the Legislature is not required to hold one and Republican leaders, who control the House and Senate, could call members back to Harrisburg now if they wanted to.
“Governor Wolf has long been a strong supporter of an independent commission that eliminates gerrymandering and unfair districts and he continues to call for Republican leaders in the House and Senate to advance this crucial reform,” Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said on Tuesday.
“Legislative leaders in both houses and both parties have expressed willingness to come back and vote on this measure,” Kuniholm wrote, “but the original bill was burdened with an amendment passed in the Senate on a divisive topic and then further burdened with over 600 amendments proposed in the House.”
She asked Wolf to call a special session for Monday so that lawmakers can re-introduce bills without amendments, but with “new safeguards and provisions” and other changes to address legislators’ concerns.
“In the past 20 months, we have held over 440 public meetings, attended by over 20,000 people. Citizens have initiated hundreds of resolutions of support, yielding resolutions from 19 counties and 263 municipalities, representing over half of Pennsylvania’s population,” Kuniholm wrote. “The citizens of Pennsylvania have invested too much in this to allow the clock to tick out quietly.”
Kuniholm reminded Wolf that the deadline for an amendment to the state constitution is three months before a general election, which puts it at later this month because of the Nov. 6 general election.
In a separate email to supporters, Fair Districts PA said the advertising deadline is Aug. 6, but the Pennsylvania Department of State would need two to three weeks to place ads. Consequently, they placed the “working deadline” to pass a bill between July 15 and 22.
Amendments to the state constitution must pass the House and Senate in consecutive sessions then go to a statewide vote. With the next national census occurring in 2020, and maps being redrawn the next year, time is waning for redistricting supporters to get an independent commission approved. Source
May 2, 2018 witf.org House GOP Leader announces he wants to reform redistricting
House Majority Leader Dave Reed speaks to reporters. (Photo by Katie Meyer/WITF)
(Harrisburg) — In recent weeks, proponents of overhauling Pennsylvania’s redistricting process with an independent citizens’ commission have been frustrated as their bills have been repeatedly gutted by the Republican majority in a prominent state House committee.
But now, those advocates may be getting an unexpected new ally in House GOP Leader Dave Reed, who told reporters Tuesday, this is an issue he wants to address before he departs the legislature at the end of this year.
Currently, congressional redistricting is done by the legislature, and the governor signs off on it.
Reform proponents say that makes the process too partisan, and argue an independent panel of citizens would be more representative.
Opponents, like House State Government Committee Chair Daryl Metcalfe–who has made a project of quickly blocking the bills–say the legislature itself is perfectly representative.
The independent commission effort has been recently championed by the Democratic minority, who stand to gain more through reform.
But Reed argued, it’s not a fundamentally partisan issue.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments from a lot of folks across the state with frustrations with our current redistricting process, and you know to be honest, I agree,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the greatest process in the world. It’s served us for the last couple hundred years, but I think it could be better.”
He plans to circulate his own bill soon, and said he has been discussing the matter with other lawmakers on and off for about a year.
He has serious reservations about a number of already-introduced bills on the subject, saying they leave the panel-selection process too open to political tampering.
“I think maybe we should look at it more like how we look at a jury selection process, where everybody gets put into the pool…you have less of a chance of folks gaming that system, and more of a chance of a truly independent commission,” he said.
He also wants to include specific guidelines on what districts should look like.
The bill likely has to pass by July 6th to move forward as a constitutional amendment this session–and Reed noted, it’s a short time frame.
He also acknowledged, his impending retirement means other lawmakers will have to finish the effort.
“That can all be a discussion,” he said. “But we’re running out of time, and I think it’s a topic that merits serious consideration, just where things are at electorally in this country.”
Short of calling for a limited constitutional convention–which Reed indicated he isn’t opposed to–any bill he comes up with would have to garner enough support to get through Metcalfe’s committee.
“The majority leader and I have worked on a number of issues together,” he said. “So if the majority leader introduces legislation and it’s referred to my committee–as it should be if it’s dealing with redistricting reform–I’d certainly be willing to take a look at it and work with the majority leader on his idea.” Source
May 1, 2018 witf.org GOP guts another independent redistricting commission bill
The state Supreme Court redrew the commonwealth’s congressional map after ruling it had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered by Republicans. Lawmakers are deadlocked over how to reform the process.
(Harrisburg) – For the second time this month, a state House panel has stripped a bill that would have established an independent redistricting commission made up of citizens, and replaced it with language that gives the legislature even more power over the process.
GOP House State Government Committee Chair Daryl Metcalfe called the surprise meeting Monday, because the bill’s supporters were trying to circumvent his panel to get the measure to the House floor.
A number of lawmakers complained they were only given about ten minutes’ notice of the amendment.
Metcalfe’s version of the bill would put six lawmakers in charge of the redistricting process. That’s one more than current law allows.
It would also get rid of the governor’s ability to sign or veto the maps, and it would allow the Commonwealth Court to be a final arbiter of disputes, not the state Supreme Court.
After changing the language, Metcalfe quickly adjourned the meeting without calling a vote to pass the measure.
The Butler County Republican said if a version of the bill comes up again, he’ll do the same thing.
“If they want to debate a proposal, they will debate this proposal in this committee,” he said.
Proponents of an independent commission say it would make the redistricting process less partisan, and therefore represent the people of Pennsylvania better.
But Metcalfe, and a number of other Republicans, argue the legislature itself is more representative.
“The sponsors are open about their admiration of this California commission on which it’s based,” he said. “But in California, every single commissioner had an advanced degree…It’s like, there is no blue-collar worker that’s represented here.”
The original version of the redistricting bill had 110 cosponsors. More than 50 percent of the legislature–Republicans as well as Democrats–supported it.
But Metcalfe noted, that’s not enough to dislodge it from his committee.
“I have fifteen votes for this bill in the committee,” he said.
And as for the bill’s supporters?
“Well, most of them are Democrats to begin with, and they’re in the minority so they’re not governing,” he said. “There’s not that many Republicans, and some of the Republicans I know have been browbeaten…by activists that are the arm of the League of Women Voters.”
Democratic Representative Steve Samuelson, of Northampton County, sponsored the bill that was gutted a few weeks ago.
He contested the claim that Republicans had been “browbeaten.”
“The sponsors of this bill have been contacted by average citizens across Pennsylvania,” he said. “Legislators have told me they sponsored this bill because they met with citizens from their home communities.”
Samuelson said he and other supporters are still trying to push the bill onto the floor, one way or another.
Democratic House State Government Committee chair Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County, was less optimistic. He said he can only think of one sure way to get it passed:
“There’s an election in November,” he said. “And I hope people turn out in historic numbers and have the same level of frustration I have with the circumventing of our democratic process.”
The Senate is holding hearings on a similar redistricting measure. Source
March 20, 2018 philly.com Pa. Republican state legislator moves to impeach four state Supreme Court justices
HARRISBURG — One day after federal courts declined to block the new congressional map from taking effect, a Republican state representative introduced resolutions to impeach the four Democrats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court who ruled to impose the map in time for the May 15 primary.
Rep. Cris Dush, of Jefferson County, introduced the measures against Justices Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty, Debra Todd, and David Wecht.
The justices, along with fellow Democrat Max Baer, voted to strike down the old map of congressional districts, ruling they were unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. But a second vote by the four imposed a new map for the May 15 primary. Baer dissented on that second plank in the ruling; Republican Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Thomas Saylor dissented on both decisions.
Political analysts say the new design is expected to boost Democrats’ chances to regain control of the U.S. House.
How far Dush’s bill could go is unclear. First, the full House would have to find the justices had committed impeachable offenses, and then the justices would face a trial before the state Senate. Convicting and removing them from office would require the approval of two-thirds of senators present. Republicans hold a 34-16 majority in the chamber.
Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) declined to comment Tuesday, noting that if articles of impeachment were to pass the House — which would require only a simple majority — he and other senators would act as jurors. “We, obviously, are supposed to be impartial listening to that evidence,” he said.
Dush, who began promoting the idea of impeachment in early February, said he waited until the legal challenges to the maps were resolved “because we did not want to be seen as trying to influence the court.” That closure came Monday, when both the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal District Court in Harrisburg rejected petitions from Republicans to overturn the new map.
Republicans have repeatedly argued that the Democratic-led Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it imposed a new congressional map. Dush says he thinks the state high court’s actions violated the principle of separation of powers established under the state constitution. “This is basically junior high civics course material,” he said.
“If the court is willing to overstep on this element to their benefit, at some point, when the court shifts, there will be probably a willingness on the part of the court to go the other way and cite this action on the part of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as precedent in order to do it,” he added later.
Asked Tuesday about the impeachment resolution, House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said: “We will have to review the evidence and check whether all of the leaders and 102 members of the House want to pursue that remedy. It is not a decision to be made lightly, and we have not had those discussions.”
Dush’s resolutions drew a quick rebuke from Democrats. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) called the resolutions “an absurd attack on common sense.”
“It’s an attack on the independence of every judge in our state, one of the bedrock principles of our democracy,” Dermody said in a statement. “If pursued, this would be a clear and present danger to the administration of justice in Pennsylvania.”
But Democrats don’t control the chamber. Among the 200 sitting representatives — three seats are vacant — Democrats account for only 81. Source
March 19, 2018 Chicagotribune Supreme Court refuses to stop new congressional maps in Pennsylvania
The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a request from Pennsylvania Republican legislative leaders to block the implementation of a redrawn congressional map that creates more parity between the political parties in the state.
It was the second time that the court declined to get involved in the partisan battle that has roiled Pennsylvania politics. The commonwealth’s highest court earlier this year ruled that a map drawn by the Republicans leaders in 2011 “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the Free and Equal Elections Clause of the Pennsylvania constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court deliberated nearly two weeks before turning down the request to stop the map from being used in this fall’s elections. Generally the justices stay out of the way when a state’s highest court is interpreting its own state constitution.
The practical impact is the 2018 elections are likely to be held under a map much more favorable to Democrats, who scored a surprising victory last week in a special election. The 2011 map that has been used this decade has resulted in Republicans consistently winning 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats.
Under a new map drawn by a nonpartisan expert and adopted by Democratic justices of Pennsylvania’s elected supreme court, analysts say Republicans start with an edge in 10 of the 18 districts. Pennsylvania traditionally is a purple state, and currently has a legislature controlled by Republicans, a governor who is a Democrat and a U.S. senator from each party.
Political analysts say the changes in Pennsylvania might aid national Democrats in their attempt to flip the House from Republican control. Democrats need to take about two dozen seats to win the majority, and Pennsylvania could provide some of that total. Six incumbents, five of them Republicans, have said they will not be on the fall ballot.
Pennsylvania’s top Republicans have fought the imposition of a new plan since the state supreme court ruled. They have received encouragement from President Trump, who tweeted they should challenge the new map “all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”
“Your Original was correct!” Trump tweeted. “Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. turned down the state’s first request on Feb. 5, after the state supreme court ordered a new map.
After the map was adopted, the legislative leaders were back, renewing their plea that the Pennsylvania justices were taking away the power that rightfully belongs to the state legislature to draw congressional lines.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court-drawn map,” said state House Speaker Michael C. Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph B. Scarnati III.
But those who challenged the 2011 map as an improper partisan gerrymander said the state was making arguments the U.S. Supreme Court already has rejected.
“Their latest stay application is just another ploy to preserve congressional districts that violate Pennsylvania’s Constitution for one more election cycle,” said a brief for the League of Women Voters, adding, “It would be unprecedented for this Court to interfere with the state court’s determination about its own state’s law.”
The challengers pointed out that qualifying has already begun under the new map, and “at least 150 candidates in all 18 new districts have begun collecting voter signatures on nomination petitions” for May 15 primaries.
Pennsylvania election officials have said changing the process again would require postponing the primaries and could cost the commonwealth $20 million.
The victory in Pennsylvania for opponents of partisan gerrymandering suggest a new mode of attack, by challenging redistricting in state courts under state constitutions.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never thrown out a state’s redistricting plan because it has found it so infected with partisan bias that it violates voters’ constitutional rights.
But the court has on its current docket two cases — one from Wisconsin and one from Maryland — that raise the question. Source
March 8, 2018 Inquirer Pennsylvania, gerrymandered: A guide to Pa.’s congressional map redistricting fight
Various experts have described the Pennsylvania congressional map drawn in 2011 as a partisan gerrymander drawn to benefit Republicans. Test after test found that the map was an extreme outlier, and in all three elections held under the map, in 2012, 2014, and 2016, Republicans won the same 13 out of 18 U.S. House seats.
The same 13 out of 18 seats, even as statewide votes split equally between Democrats and Republicans, even as Pennsylvania went for former President Barack Obama and then President Trump, former Gov. Tom Corbett and then Gov. Wolf, voted for U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and also Pat Toomey.
A group of Democratic voters, led by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, sued over the map last year, saying it violated the state constitution by discriminating against Democrats. In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed, overturning the map and ultimately imposing its own.
That decision set off a nasty political and legal fight and has upended politics across the state, drawing attention from across the country. Here’s a full collection of our coverage of the case. We’ll update it as new stories are published.
Voters sue over the Pennsylvania congressional map
October 2017 — Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pelligrini says in a hearing that the case would not be decided before the 2018 elections if it goes through the normal process: “I can tell you it isn’t going to happen.” On Oct. 16, he orders a stay in the suit. Lawyers for the plaintiffs ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to exercise a rarely used power to step in and fast-track the case.
Nov. 9, 2017 — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees to take over and expedite the case, saying it “involves issues of immediate public importance.” The court ordered the Commonwealth Court to hear a trial in the case, then submit recommendations of fact and conclusions of law to the high court by the end of the year. A one-week trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 11 before Judge P. Kevin Brobson in Harrisburg.
Dec. 11, 2017 — On the first day of trial in Harrisburg, University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen testified for the plaintiffs that the 2011 map was more skewed toward Republicans than hundreds of maps that his computer software drew using politically neutral redistricting criteria. By comparing the actual map to the computer-drawn ones, Chen said, he determined that the partisan skew of the 2011 map was an “extreme statistical outlier.”
Dec. 29, 2017 — Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson recommends the state Supreme Court uphold the congressional map. In his recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law, he says the plaintiffs’ experts were credible but the plaintiffs had not created a “judicially manageable standard” for the court to decide whether the map crossed the line. “Petitioners, however, have failed to meet their burden of proving that the 2011 Plan, as a piece of legislation, clearly, plainly, and palpably violates the Pennsylvania Constitution,” he wrote. “For the judiciary, this should be the end of the inquiry.”
Jan. 17, 2018 — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears oral argument in the case and appears open to the idea that the congressional map is illegally gerrymandered.
Jan. 22, 2018 — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court throws out the 2011 map, blocking its use in the 2018 midterm and general elections. The court gives the state legislature until Feb. 9 to submit a new map to Gov. Wolf, who has until Feb. 15 to approve it. If that does not happen, the court says, it will draw its own map by Feb. 19. While it says a full opinion will be released later, it tells the legislature that a new map should be composed of districts that are compact and contiguous, of equal population, and split as few counties and towns as possible. As the news ripples across the state and country, Republican lawmakers immediately vow to challenge the court.
Feb. 5, 2018 — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. rejects the Republican lawmakers’ request for a stay without comment. He does not refer the issue to the whole court. The lawmakers say they will keep fighting, and a rank-and-file Republican lawmaker circulates a memo seeking cosponsors to join an attempt to impeach the Democratic justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Feb. 7, 2018 — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court releases its opinion explaining its ruling. The 2011 map violated the state constitution’s guarantee that “elections shall be free and equal,” Justice Debra McCloskey Todd wrote for the majority: “An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not ‘free and equal.’” Republican lawmakers criticize the opinion, do not rule out other legal attempts at fighting it, and say it is unlikely the legislature can draw and pass a new map before the Feb. 9 deadline in two days.
Feb. 13, 2018 — Wolf rejects the map, saying it remains a partisan gerrymander. He reached his conclusion in part based on an analysis done by Moon Duchin, a Tufts University math professor he hired. Wolf says he hopes the state legislature will submit a new map to him by Feb. 15, but participants in the case also begin preparing their own map proposals to submit directly to the court.
Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new “pushed” Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!
Feb. 23, 2018 — The panel of federal judges assigned to the lawsuit filed by Republican congressmen and state senate leaders declines to immediately block the map but fast-tracks the schedule to hear the case.
Democrat judges have totally redrawn election lines in the great State of Pennsylvania. @FoxNews. This is very unfair to Republicans and to our country as a whole. Must be appealed to the United States Supreme Court ASAP!
March 1, 2018 — In the lawsuit brought by Republican congressmen and state senators, the federal judges allow the voters in the initial case to step in to defend the map but do not allow the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania or the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to intervene in the case. A hearing is scheduled for March 9.
March 6, 2018 WJAC Second brief filed by Republicans to try to halt new congressional map
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Republicans have filed a second brief to try and stop the implementation of the newly drawn congressional map.
The brief was filed Monday by the Pennsylvania GOP party in support of a previous brief filed by House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Joe Scarnati.
“We’re hopeful and believe that our amicus filing today on behalf of the PA GOP clearly sets forth the harm that will be sustained by our congressional candidates as well as the citizens of PA should this map be implemented before our upcoming elections,” said counsel to the Pennsylvania GOP, Joel Frank.
The state Supreme Court released its newly drawn map Feb. 19 after they said in a Jan. 22 order the previous map was unconstitutional.
State Republicans have contended that by the court drawing the map, it overstepped its boundaries and has led to a “constitutional crisis.”
The new map has changed district lines and would see in some areas incumbent congressmen overseeing new areas.
The new map would likely also see Democrats claim more seats. Currently, Republicans have 13 of the 18 congressional seats. Source
March 3, 2018 The Reporter Editorial: Congressional district maps and candidates remain in limbo
Raise your hand if you’re confused by the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections?
We’re not surprised.
First there is the continuing question of the maps themselves. That’s right, we’re still debating the maps.
Let’s review. The state Supreme Court tossed out the Congressional maps enacted by the Republican Legislature back in 2011, ruling they were an unconstitutional gerrymander.
The court ordered GOP leaders in the Legislature to take another swing at it and submit a new plan to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Republicans promptly appealed for help to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost. Republicans submitted a redrawn map. Wolf rejected it and offered one of his own.
Eventually the state Supreme Court took all the maps that had been submitted by various sides and came up with one of their own.
The results were striking, nowhere more than the Philly suburbs.
Gone was the twisted, grotesque vision of the 7th District, Exhibit A in the battle over gerrymandering, a shape so unique it earned the nickname “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”
The same for the 1st, which covered a sliver of eastern Delaware County, including the city of Chester.
Each suburban county now has its own handy-dandy district. The new 5th covers all of Delaware County, along with a part of Montgomery County along the Main Line, and a portion of South Philly. Montco, which had been split up and didn’t have its own representative, now calls the 4th District home.
And the 6th covers all of Chester County, extending out into Berks County and the city of Reading.
Democrats loved what the high court came up with. That’s not surprising, since most experts seemed to think the map drawn up by the 5-2 majority of Democrats on the court would be beneficial in getting Dems to break the 13-5 stranglehold Republicans have held on the state’s Congressional seats.
Republicans were not nearly as enthused. They complained bitterly that the court was replacing one gerryrmander with another.
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of Chester County, went so far as to call the new map “racist” and called for the impeachment of the justices.
Republicans continue to press their case before the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to halt implementation of the map drawn up by the Pa. court.
So don’t fall in love with those new districts just yet. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuel Alito has given all sides in the original gerrymandering lawsuit until 3 p.m. Monday to file responses to the GOP request.
In the meantime, candidates are off and running, gathering signatures and preparing to seek their party’s nominations in the May primary.
Brace yourself, voters. There was a time when voters lamented the lack of choices on the ballot. That does not appear to be a problem this time around.
At this point, it might be easier to list the people who aren’t running.
A candidate forum for those either seeking or interested in running for the Democratic nomination in the newly configured 5th District was held Wednesday night.
No less than 15 candidates showed up, including state Rep. Margo Davidson and Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, new entries into the fray.
Three of the candidates on hand admitted they did not live within the boundaries of the new district. The law does not require it, but it’s usually considered a hindrance by most experts.
That’s just one of the reasons why the eventual shape of the new districts continues to hang like a shroud over this process.
On the Republican side, six more candidates are jousting for the right to take up the mantle held by U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, who rolled to three successive dominating re-election victories where he routinely rolled up 60 percent of the vote. Of course, Democrats and the groups who filed suit would argue that was in large part because of the way the district was bent and twisted in the Republican’s favor.
That might not be the case this time around.
Now if we can just finally figure out what these districts will actually look like.
It’s easy if you look at the congressional district shuffle in Pennsylvania, now that the state Supreme Court has issued a new congressional map. Candidates seeking re-election are suddenly running in new neighborhoods and voters don’t know what districts they live in anymore.
“We’re talking about the biggest congressional change in modern history and we still don’t know if it is going to hold up,” said Dr. G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “Millions of Pennsylvanians are going to be in a new district. Six representatives are not seeking re-election; 12 are, but 35 to 45 percent of their districts are new to them.”
The new map has the potential to flip more seats from Republicans to Democrats and could help Democrats nationwide as they try to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican lawmakers have filed legal challenges of the new map.
In January, the state Supreme Court threw out the 2011 congressional map, saying its districts are unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. Critics have said Pennsylvania’s old map was a textbook example of gerrymandering.
A three-judge federal panel declined Friday to temporarily hold up implementation of the map but laid out a schedule for the parties to elaborate on their legal positions, including a hearing on March 9.
Congressional candidates have been running under the 2011 map for the last three congressional elections. A new congressional map is drawn about every 10 years, soon after the census.
The court ordered the state General Assembly to redraw the map by Feb. 9. State Republican leadership whipped up a new map. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf rejected it and drafted his own map.
Ultimately, the state Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, drew its own map. It cuts Berks County into three congressional districts, compared to the previous four.
This is the new map for Pennsylvania.
Republican legislative leaders have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the implementation of the new map and go back to the 2011 version.
In addition, eight Republican congressmen, including Reps. Ryan Costello and Lloyd Smucker, have filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
“I think congressional candidates are confused and voters are confused,” said Joseph Rudderow, Berks County Republican Committee chairman. “We are trying to follow our current congressmen and the numbers are changed.”
Rudderow thinks he knows the motivation behind the push for a new map.
“There is a group of people not happy with the 2016 presidential election,” Rudderow said. “They were fine with the map until the 2016 election. If the presidential election had been anything other than Donald Trump, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Berks County Democratic Chairman Kevin Boughter says the new map is better but he had hoped Berks County would be part of just one district.
“It is a world better than the old map was,” Boughter said. “The other side is saying it’s gerrymandered for us (Democrats) but anything close to being fair, they are going to say is gerrymandered because theirs was gerrymandered so badly.”
Who will represent whom
Click on a district number for details
The state Supreme Court has issued a new map for Pennsylvania’s congressional districts. Federal and state Republican officials are seeking to block the court’s map and retain the boundaries used for the last three congressional elections. The larger map shows the new congressional districts; smaller maps show the location and number of the old districts.
View interactive maps here
The legal challenge
Costello, a Chester County Republican, now sits in a district that includes all of Chester County but adds the Democratic city of Reading. Costello’s old district included portions of Berks but it didn’t encompass Reading.
Political analysts have said Costello faces a more challenging path to re-election.
“The new map was purposely designed to take me out,” Costello said in a phone interview. “Nobody disputes that.”
The congressional legal challenge filed in federal court in Harrisburg notes the impact of the new map on Costello’s campaign.
“In the new map, almost the entirety of Berks County will reside in a different (6th) district and the Township of Exeter will now be split,” the court filing said. “This has destroyed any incumbency advantage that Congressman Costello may have once held and the Congressman’s district now contains a majority of voters from the Democratic Party, where it once was a majority Republican district. He has been actively campaigning for re-election, having participated in numerous forums and town-hall meetings, and raising over $1.6 million for his candidacy. “Congressman Costello spent approximately $450,000 for his re-election in 2017, of which over $220,000 was spent in efforts to engage with voters he will no longer represent.”
The filing also cites the impact on constituent services.
“Costello is currently providing services to 325 constituents in order to resolve various issues with the federal government,” the filing states. “Approximately 144 of these constituents will find themselves in new districts which will likely delay the resolution of those issues.”
In a phone interview, Costello talked about services such as helping veterans process difficult disability claims and advocating for those navigating challenging Social Security Disability cases. They will have to explain their stories to a new case manager.
“It’s extremely frustrating for constituents,” he said.
Analysts say the new 6th District leans Democratic.
“I think it is tougher for Costello than it was before,” Madonna said. “He has a lot of money in the bank and he has not been a total Trump loyalist. But he is facing Chrissy Houlahan, so it’s game-on. The district is more Democratic now than it was before.”
Costello and other Republicans are taking a wait-and-see attitude, hoping a U.S. Supreme Court challenge will allow them to go back to the old map.
Most Democrats like Houlahan, a Chester County Democrat and former Air Force officer seeking to unseat Costello, are embracing the new map that is more favorable to them.
“I would say it is a more fair map,” Houlahan said. “Before it was hostile to letting people’s votes matter and now I would say it allows people’s votes to matter.”
“I’m a little bit lucky,” she acknowledged. “I know there is a bit of uncertainty for many candidates, but for me there is definitely clarity. I am running in the 6th and against Ryan Costello. Some candidates got drawn out of their districts. I don’t have that decision to make.”
Dr. Gary Wegman, a Reading Democrat and a dentist, does have a decision to make. He was running for the House in the old 16th District, which included Lancaster County and the city of Reading. He could run in the new 6th District, since he has a home in Reading, or the 9th District (central and northern Berks County and several neighboring counties). He owns a farm in the 9th, in Oley and Exeter townships.
“We are working to decide where Gary Wegman runs strongest,” he said. “We don’t know if this (map) is carved in stone yet. I’m trying to make the best of a bad situation.”
Wegman said he is glad the map is being changed, although it is costing him money.
“This process has to take place,” he said. “It was always going to be painful. It just happens to be in the 11th hour.”
Republican Scott Uehlinger, a retired Navy/CIA officer from Topton, had been running in the old 15th District, served by retiring U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Lehigh County Republican. He will now run in the 9th District where there would be no incumbent.
Around the state, candidates in different contests are abruptly moved into the same race. Uehlinger will face Republican Andrew Shecktor in the primary.
Shecktor, going for the new 9th, had been running in the old 11th District served by U.S. Rep Lou Barletta, a Hazleton Republican who is now running for the U.S. Senate.
A Berwick Republican working in technology sales, Shecktor said the new map benefits him.
“I was going to have a hard time in the 11th. That’s why the Republican party is so mad. Their map eliminated competition,” Shecktor said. “The Republican map (rejected by Wolf) was drawn so their globalist machine politicians would win. I like the Court’s map better. I hate losing seats, but I also hate seeing the same stodgy politicians run every time, cutting the little man out.”
Madonna predicts the new 9th District will go to the Republicans.
“The new 9th is heavily Trump,” Madonna said. “I don’t see a Democrat there. I think that is a Republican seat. But Democrats are more likely to vote this year and they are raising more money than in previous times. We might see a Democratic wave.”
Madonna considers the new 4th District, which includes most of Montgomery County and the Boyertown area in Berks County, extremely favorable for Democrats. All the candidates who have emerged for this seat are Montgomery County Democrats.
At the moment, candidates are cautiously moving toward the new map while awaiting word on the legal challenges.
“Unfortunately, we are stuck with this mess until it gets sorted out,” Rudderow said. Source
Feb 25, 2018 Post-gazette.com Brian O’Neill: Fix the congressional map now — then fix the system
Pennsylvania Republicans are appealing the state’s new congressional map to the nation’s highest court, which is reminiscent of the New England Patriots complaining after they were caught cheating in Spygate.
Sure, they know they’ve rigged the game. But when you’ve put so much work into finagling the system, and have gotten really good at it, it’s an affront to turn the controls over to lesser mortals.
The zigzagged mess that was the Republican congressional district map has been replaced by a more streamlined model commissioned by the Democratic-dominated Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It’s indisputable that this new map is more favorable to Democratic hopes in several congressional races, but that’s like noting it became somewhat easier for Patriots’ opponents to win once New Englanders were barred from videotaping other teams’ signals.
It’s also true that jiggering the map to favor the party in power did not begin with these Republicans; Democrats played these same games with more primitive technology back when they ran Harrisburg. But gerrymandering never has been about serving the people; it’s always been about politicians serving themselves.
So when we hear that this is not the best time to be doing this, so close to the 2018 elections, we agree. The time to do it was generations ago. But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
“Honestly, it’s ludicrous to have legislators saying there’s no transparency, and they weren’t part of the process, when they have so blatantly shut everyone else out of the process,” Carol Kuniholm, chair and cofounder of Fair Districts PA, said last week.
Her group formed only 15 months ago but has had more than 360 public meetings and claims more than 18,000 attendees. Maybe because Pennsylvania is generally at or near the top of any list of the most gerrymandered states, Pennsylvanians are riled about this otherwise wonkish topic. A meeting at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library last March drew a crowd larger than the fire code permitted.
Even if the current map survives the court challenge, fixing it one time isn’t enough. A permanent solution, with a nonpartisan board setting state and congressional district boundaries, is needed “or our state will be right back to gerrymandering in 2021.”
That’s the prediction from state Rep. Steve Samuelson, a Democrat from Bethlehem, who is behind House Bill 722 for a Legislative Apportionment Commission. The bill has 109 co-sponsors — 71 Democrats and 38 Republicans — a majority of the 203-member state House.
The independent commission would be made up of four registered Republicans and four registered Democrats (assuming they remain the two largest parties), and three members who are unaffiliated or registered to a minority party. They cannot have held federal or state office, or been a staff member, in the five years immediately preceding appointment.
In short, “we have to draw the districts without the politicians in the room,” Mr. Samuelson said.
Eleven new co-sponsors have jumped aboard since New Years’ Day, eight of them Republicans. State Rep. Warren Kampf, R-Montgomery County, said last week he was backing the bill because “events of the past month have show that the only way to fix this system is to make it truly of the people.”
Because it’s a constitutional amendment, this bill would need to pass both the state House and Senate in successive sessions. Apart from its own merits, this needs to pass because some are already using gerrymandering as the excuse for not downsizing America’s Largest Full-Time State Legislature.
Seriously, all other arguments having failed, the new argument against rightsizing is that if you think legislative leaders can jerk voters around when they have 203 districts to play with, just wait to see what they’ll do when it’s time to throw 52 representatives over the side and get down to a still-sizable 151-member House.
Implicit corruption is not a good reason to keep an oversized, extraordinarily expensive statehouse that can’t get out of its own way.
You might ask your own state rep and senator how they feel about HB 722, for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, and HB 153, to downsize the statehouse. If you don’t like their answers, this would be a great year to vote them out of a job.
Feb 22, 2018 brandenton.com GOP congressmen challenge new Pennsylvania district map
BY MARK SCOLFORO
Pennsylvania’s highest court overstepped its authority in drawing new congressional district lines and did not give state lawmakers enough time to produce a map of their own, eight Republican congressmen said in a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The complaint in Harrisburg federal court argued against the legality of the map put in place Monday by the state Supreme Court, and said a 2011 Republican-crafted map should remain in use this year.
The plaintiffs are suing top elections official under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, asking for an injunction to prevent the Department of State from implementing the new plan.
“Far from being free of politics, it appears every choice in the court drawn plan was to pack Republicans into as few districts as possible, while advantaging Democrats,” the plaintiffs alleged.
The Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, which helped argue the successful case against the 2011 map in the state courts, on Thursday called the Republican lawsuit “baseless” and in a federal court filing said independent analysts found the court’s map shows no sign of partisan bias. The law center also said that Republicans who control the state Legislature never tried to pass a replacement map in the time allotted by the court.
A separate legal challenge to the new map by two senior Republican legislative leaders is currently awaiting action by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A spokesman for Wolf said he and the elections agency “are complying with the court’s order to implement the remedial map and assuring the commonwealth is prepared for the primary election.”
The 2011 map is widely considered among the nation’s most gerrymandered, a mélange of jagged lines and odd shapes that include one likened to the cartoon character Goofy kicking Donald Duck. Some Republicans acknowledge the map was gerrymandered, but say that is not unconstitutional.
It has proven to be a political winner for the GOP, helping the party maintain a 13-5 edge in the state’s congressional delegation over three straight election cycles. Democrats have about 800,000 more registered voters and a recent winning record in statewide elections, although Republicans hold wide majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Republican President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania in 2016.
An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the state court’s redrawn map would eliminate “much of the partisan skew” favoring Republicans on the old GOP-drawn map, but not all of it.
Democrats hope a new map in Pennsylvania will help them retake majority control of the U.S. House this year. Six congressman elected in 2016 are not running again, an unusually large number that has helped draw a slew of would-be candidates seeking to replace them.
The plaintiffs include seven Republican members of Congress who are expected to seek re-election: Reps. Ryan Costello, Mike Kelly, Tom Marino, Scott Perry, Keith Rothfus, Lloyd Smucker and Glenn Thompson.
Not among them is U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs who wants to turn over redistricting to an independent, non-partisan commission.
Incumbents said they have already spent money on re-election campaigns in their existing districts, and that ongoing work to help constituents they may no longer represent is likely to be disrupted.
The federal lawsuit was filed the day after Republicans asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the court-ordered map from being implemented. Some of the same lawyers worked on both filings, and the approaches are notably similar.
In throwing out the 2011 map in January, all five Democrats on the state Supreme Court sided with Democratic voters who challenged the map, saying it ran afoul of the state constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections. One of the Democratic justices, Max Baer, has been critical of the compressed time frame. The new lawsuit drew heavily from the minority opinions in the state case filed by Baer and the court’s two Republican justices, Thomas Saylor and Sallie Mundy.
The legal scramble comes on the eve of a very busy time for congressional candidates hoping to get on the May 15 primary ballot. Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to qualify. Source
Feb 20, 2018 wral.com Urged on by Trump, GOP to fight Pennsylvania’s district map
HARRISBURG, PA. — Encouraged by President Donald Trump, Republicans vowed Tuesday to fight Pennsylvania’s new court-imposed map of congressional districts as dozens of candidates assessed their chances under newly formed districts and the odds that a federal court could block them.
Republican members of Congress and Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers planned to sue in federal court as early as Wednesday in a bid to block a map expected to improve Democrats’ chances at erasing the GOP’s U.S. House majority.
The new map substantially overhauls a GOP-drawn congressional map that has helped produce a predominantly Republican delegation and was widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered.
With control of the U.S. House on the line in November, Trump urged Republicans to challenge the new map of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.
“Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!” Trump tweeted.
Lawyers for the Democratic voters who successfully challenged Pennsylvania’s congressional districts as unconstitutionally gerrymandered said Tuesday that Republicans have no legal or factual basis to sue.
In a statement, the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center said the new court-ordered districts are non-partisan, more compact and competitive, and Republicans should stop holding onto the gerrymandered districts they drew in 2011.
The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court met its deadline Monday to issue the new boundaries after it threw out the 6-year-old map last month. The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf did not produce a consensus replacement map in the three weeks allotted by the court.
Independent analysts said the court-ordered map should improve Democratic prospects while still favoring Republicans as a whole. An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court’s redrawn map eliminates “much of the partisan skew” favoring Republicans on the old Republican-drawn map, although not all of it.
Democrats cheered the new map, while Republicans blasted it and it left dozens of candidates reconsidering their future.
Chief among them is Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, whose suburban Philadelphia district was narrowly won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Costello is in more dire straits now that the court added the heavily Democratic city of Reading to his district and ironed out geographic contortions that were designed to capture more Republican voters.
On Tuesday, Costello could not yet say if he will run in his district if the court-ordered congressional map survives a federal court challenge.
But Costello lashed out at the state Supreme Court, saying the justices’ map was politically motivated, their map-making process was politically corrupt and that state lawmakers should consider impeaching them.
“I’m all riled up,” Costello said.
Pennsylvania’s state House Republican majority leader, Dave Reed, now lives in the same district as Rep. Glenn Thompson, a fellow Republican, rather than the district of the congressman he had hoped to succeed, retiring Republican Rep. Bill Shuster. Reed said he did not know what he would do.
Joe Peters, a former top state drug prosecutor and Scranton police officer, had been running to succeed a fellow Republican, Rep. Lou Barletta, who is campaigning for U.S. Senate.
Peters now finds his rural northeastern Pennsylvania home in the same district as Republican Rep. Tom Marino. That prompted Peters to start thinking about moving into one of two nearby districts that don’t have a Republican incumbent, while trying to gauge whether a federal lawsuit will undo the new districts.
“It’s a combination of a game of chicken and a game of chess,” Peters said.
The new map is to be in effect for the May 15 primary. The first day for candidates to start circulating petitions is next Tuesday, but petitions weren’t available yet and neither was complete information about which municipalities and precincts are in each new district.
The map removes the heart of one district from Philadelphia, where a crowd of Democratic candidates had assembled to replace the retiring Democratic Rep. Bob Brady, and moves it to suburban Montgomery County. That leaves many of those candidates in the same districts as Democratic Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle.
The new map also threw a curveball into the March 13 special election in southwestern Pennsylvania. The court’s map puts each candidate’s home in a district with a Pittsburgh-area incumbent, making it possible that Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone would circulate petitions for the primary in one district while they run in another district for the special election. Source
Feb 19, 2018 phillyvoice.com The new maps: A visual guide to your congressional district
SOURCE/PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT
A portion of the new map depicting redrawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday unveiled new congressional districts for state voters after it ruled the current districts were gerrymandered to give political advantage to the Republicans.
The entirety of Lehigh and Northampton counties will be in a newly redrawn congressional district that includes a slice of southern Monroe County, according to a new map released Monday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The district would be renumbered to the 7th Congressional District.
The court issued the new map after Democrats and Republicans came to a standstill over redrawing the 2011 map that the court ruled an illegal gerrymander.
Pennsylvania’s six-year-old map is widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered. Tearing it up could boost Democrats nationally in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House and dramatically change the state’s predominantly Republican, all-male delegation.
Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters could find themselves in different districts barely a week before they can start circulating petitions to run.
With about six hours to spare, Republican legislative leaders hit a Feb. 9 deadline to provide Gov. Tom Wolf with their proposed blueprint for Pennsylvania’s new congressional map to replace the gerrymandered districts the state Supreme Court struck down as illegally partisan.
On Feb. 12, Wolf rejected that map.
The two sides had until Thursday to work things out.
But even today’s deadline may not be the end of things.
Republican lawmakers say they will swiftly ask federal judges to block any new map.
In a filing Sunday, Republican state leaders argued that theirs is the best map of all of the ones submitted, saying that it splits the second fewest counties and precincts, and the fewest municipalities. It also meets the requirements of compactness, equal population and Voting Rights Act standards, the brief said. Source
Feb 16, 2018 philly.com Interactive: Compare proposed fixes for Pa.’s gerrymandered congressional map
Pennsylvania’s most recent map of congressional districts was declared an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by the state Supreme Court, sparking a nasty political and legal fight and setting off a scramble to draw a new map for the 2018 midterm elections.
Now the map-making is in the state high court’s hands. The court has hired a well-known redistricting expert to help it.
Here’s a look at the competing proposals from groups involved in the case. Select two maps to compare them, and scroll down for a deeper look at the maps. Read more
Feb 15, 2018 governor.pa.gov Governor Wolf Submits a Fairer Congressional Map to Supreme Court
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today submitted a map to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that combined features of legislative submissions but, according to an analysis by a gerrymandering expert, was statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.
“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.
“While my preference would have been for the General Assembly to send me a fair map, I believe this map sets forth a new standard of fairness.”
Governor Wolf’s map, along with the Republican leaders’ submission, were independently analyzed by mathematician and gerrymandering analyst, and Tufts University Professor Moon Duchin’s analysis found that in sharp contrast to the Legislative Respondents’ Map, the governor’s map exhibited no partisan skew in comparison to over a billion randomly generated maps. It displayed all the characteristics of what it, in fact, is: a plan drawn with the sole goal of respecting the tenets of traditional redistricting criteria. Read Professor Duchin’s full report (PDF).
The governor’s map is fair, is constitutional, and complies with the court’s order. Further, the map accounts for traditional communities of interests and seeks to avoid cracking, packing and unnecessary splitting of regions. The map has the same number of overall splits as the Republican leaders’ joint submission but reduces the number of counties split more than once and no county is split more than three times.
The administration has provided a webpage with more information, including an interactive map, communities of interest narratives for each district, and map files for download. Source
Feb 15, 2018 philly.com Pa. Democrats, others send congressional redistrict plans to Supreme Court
A slew of proposals were submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday as the clock ran out for the state legislature to draw a new map of congressional districts and have it approved by Gov. Wolf.
Now it’s up to the high court to adopt its own reconfigured map by Monday — or sooner — and write the next, but probably not last, chapter in the historic gerrymandering case. Republican lawmakers, who had proposed a map that Wolf vetoed Tuesday, have vowed to fight any new map the court chooses.
The House Democratic caucus was the first to file a proposal Thursday for how the 18 district boundaries should be redrawn to more fairly represent the state’s voters. Senate Democrats followed later in the day, as did Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack and a group of Republican voters and local officials.
More plans were expected to be filed late Thursday, including proposed maps from the voters who brought the legal challenge to what had been the district map and from Wolf.
But after Wolf on Tuesday rejected the map they proposed, there was little movement to negotiate a map that could pass through the General Assembly. Neither the House nor the Senate was called into session Thursday.
Republicans said they would not be submitting a new plan, standing by the one submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) and rejected by Wolf.
Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, blamed the Democratic-dominated court for imposing a difficult schedule.
“The majority in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made it impossible to pass legislation to get this done; their timeline was unrealistic,” he said.
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democrats and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny), noted that “there has been no plan from the General Assembly as a whole.”
Miskin said that when Wolf rejected the GOP proposal, he did not attempt to work out an agreement on how to change it: “He clearly has no interest in doing that with the map,” the spokesman said.
Immediately after House Democrats submitted their map, Miskin had criticized it as “showing that urban, elitist disdain for rural Pennsylvania,” pointing to a “claw” district around Pittsburgh and the proposed Sixth District, which would cover all of Chester County, the northwestern edge of Delaware County, and reach into Berks County to connect to Reading.
The map submitted by House Democrats would also reconfigure the controversial Seventh District —now represented by Rep. Pat Meehan, a Republican, and snaking in and out of five counties — to cover most of Montgomery County, likely creating a strong Democratic seat. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received 58.9 percent of votes in Montgomery County and President Trump received 37.4 percent.
The Supreme Court ordered the map proposals be submitted with information on the number of counties and municipalities that are split into multiple congressional districts. (One criticism of the most recent map was that it divided 28 counties and 68 municipalities.)
The Republican lawmakers’ proposal splits 15 counties and 17 towns. House Democrats’ map divides 17 counties and 18 municipalities, while Senate Democrats’ map divides 15 counties and 17 municipalities.
At a news conference Thursday in Harrisburg, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said Wolf declined his request to petition the court for an extension and give the legislature time to hold public hearings and draw a new map.
“We’re heading towards chaos,” Corman said, accusing the Supreme Court of usurping the power of the executive and legislative branches.
Without a map from the legislature approved by Wolf, the Supreme Court has said, it will adopt its own map by Monday. The court has hired Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily, a redistricting expert who has helped draw congressional maps in multiple states.
Republicans said they will challenge any map the court adopts — possibly by seeking an injunction in federal court and arguing that the justices have overstepped their bounds.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Drew Crompton, the top attorney for Senate Republicans. “We’re working on every sort of gyration.”
Others submitting proposals to the court Thursday included Stack and the Republican “intervenors,” a group of GOP voters and local officials.
Lawrence J. Tabas, the attorney representing the Republican local officials, said they submitted a map in addition to the lawmakers’ because “our positions are not always identical” and the intervenors had not been involved in map-making in 2011 or this time.
“They submitted one good-looking map,” Tabas said of the Republican lawmakers’ proposal, “We submitted one, too. They’re different.”
Staff writers Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article. Source
Feb 13, 2018 DLN Townships recruited to fight gerrymandering in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania court system may have ruled the current map of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts unconstitutional — resulting in new maps being drawn for the upcoming elections — but the decision and its effect will be moot in two or three years.
The maps the courts have undone were begun after the U.S. Census was conducted in 2010, and a new Census will begin in 2020, starting the process all over again.
There is nothing to stop whichever political party is in the majority then from drawing maps which some future court may declare equally unfair and designed to benefit one party or the other.
That’s why the nonpartisan activist group Fair Districts PA is advocating to take the drawing of those maps out of the hands of the people who benefit by their composition.
Fair Districts PA, a statewide group seeking to change the way those districts are drawn, is urging local governments to pass resolutions endorsing the creation of a “citizen’s commission” to draw the lines.
“The creation of a truly independent citizens redistricting commission devoid of political motivation or partisanship will help ensure a fair and accurate legislation and congressional redistricting process that respects political subdivisions, will prohibit districts from being drawn to favor or discriminate against a political party or candidate, will promote transparency, the use of impartial and sound methodology when setting district boundaries and allow for public input, and will fully comply with the constitutional requirement that ‘no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward’ be divided ‘unless absolutely necessary,’” is how the key paragraph reads.
Mapping efforts in the last 20 years have become very sophisticated, and “use mapping technology and big data to profile voters, and use that information to pick exactly who they want in or out of a voting district,” according to the Fair Districts PA web site.
“Gerrymandering uses techniques like ‘packing’ and ‘cracking’ to target voters from a particular group, such as voters from the opposite party or minority or low-income voters, to reduce their influence,” Fair Districts PA argues.
For example, Pottstown, which votes Democratic in most elections, is divided into two districts in the state’s House of Representatives with part in the 26th District represented by state Rep. Tim Hennessey, a Republican. The majority of the 26th District is in reliably Republican northern Chester County, thus diluting Democratic votes in Pottstown.
The other part of Pottstown is located in the 146th District, which includes Lower Pottsgrove, Limerick, Royersford, Trappe and Perkiomen Township. Republican state Rep. Tom Quigley represents the district.
One extreme example of the result of this mapping methodology is Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, now held by embattled Republican Pat Meehan.
It has gained national notoriety, and not in a good way, for resembling “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” and twists and turns its way through four different counties in apparent conflict with the Constitutional requirement that municipalities not be divided when possible.
And it, and maps like it, have done what is designed to do — ensure Republican victories.
In the 2016 election, despite having a higher number of registered Democrats over Republicans, Pennsylvania elected 13 Republicans and five Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some of those lopsided results — such as in the 6th and 7th districts — are in Southeast Pennsylvania where the voter registration trend has been moving away from Republicans and towards Democrats.
In fact the 6th District was cited in testimony before the supreme court by resident of Exeter Township in Berks County as an example of gerrymandering.
Montgomery County’s total population of nearly 800,000 should be enough for the county to have one dedicated representative in Washington, Rafferty told the board, because the average congressional district in the state contains roughly 710,000 people — but because of the current map, Montgomery County is currently split between five different districts. Read more
Feb 11, 2018 wesa.form Wolf Says He’ll Send The PA Supreme Court A Fair Congressional Map, Even If He Has To Draw His Own
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is promising he’ll send a politically impartial congressional district map to the state Supreme Court by its Thursday deadline if the Republican-controlled legislature cannot draw one themselves.
“What happens next, in any case, is that I take a look at this map and have a panel of objective experts look at it,” Wolf said Monday.
According to the court order, Wolf does not have to accept the GOP map. If he rejects it, he can submit his own by the same deadline.
Since the Supreme Court dismissed the state’s congressional map three weeks ago, Wolf has sought public input on how to create fair districts. He went on a series of “listening tours” at universities across the commonwealth, stopping at Point Park University on Feb. 1.
HARRISBURG — A proposed new map of Pennsylvania congressional districts may have sanded off some of the rougher edges of the current version, but it still amounts to a pro-Republican gerrymander, a chorus of Democrats complained Saturday as they urged Gov. Wolf to reject it.
The governor, whose administration is combing through the proposal with the advice of a prominent mathematics professor, is expected to announce his position on the new map early this week.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), the leaders of the GOP-controlled legislature, submitted the map Friday night in an effort to meet the deadline in a state Supreme Court order to redraw the current boundaries.
“The map that Republicans put forward last night does practically nothing to fix the partisan gerrymandering that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found violated the state’s constitution,” Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general and chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a statement.
It was the latest turn in a political drama that has gripped the state capital for the last several weeks, one with major potential implications for national politics.
Scarnati and Turzai have said they believe the proposed map complies with the court’s order, and their staffers said other factors, such as population and municipal boundaries, received greater weight than political parties when they redrew the map.
By one measure, the map is little changed. In 2016, 12 congressional districts voted for Republican President Trump and six were carried by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. That would have been true under the proposed map as well, according to an Inquirer/Daily News analysis.
Democrats hope to take control of the U.S. House in elections this fall, and their path to a majority runs through moderate turf in places like the Philadelphia suburbs.
The GOP map proposed Friday would create a question for Democrats and one of their top recruits in the country — Chrissy Houlahan. The Chester County Democrat is now running in the Sixth District against Rep. Ryan Costello, but her home in Devon would be moved to the neighboring Seventh District, centered on Delaware County.
A Possible Opponent
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, of Devon, currently lives in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, centered on Chester County. In a map proposed by Republicans she would instead be drawn into the 7th Congressional District, based in Delaware County. Candidates for Congress do not have to live in the district in which they run.
SOURCE: Offices of Sen. Joe Scarnati and Rep. Mike Turzai
That would potentially give her an easier path to Congress — since the Republican incumbent in the Seventh, Rep. Pat Meehan, is not running again and there is no clear front-runner in the crowded Democratic primary there. But it would also mean that Democrats would lose their best shot to unseat Costello in the kind of educated, suburban district where they see a chance to flip a seat.
Democrats’ choice would come down to this: a strong opportunity, on paper, to flip one seat (in the Seventh District) while having little chance in the Sixth, or taking a shot at winning both seats, with somewhat tougher odds.
If Houlahan ran in the Seventh she would be a top-tier candidate in a district with no incumbent and a new map expected to lean left.
Democrats, however, might calculate that in this political environment they are likely to win a redrawn Seventh no matter what, especially with Meehan’s departure, and might want to keep their strongest candidate in the tougher race against Costello.
“Chrissy is focused on campaigning and reaching out to voters,” said Houlahan spokesman Rahul Kale. “We are not engaging in speculation.”
Congressional candidates do not have to live in the districts they represent, but not doing so is often a political liability.
Attorneys for the Republican leaders argued in their court filing that “the world is not divided neatly into Democrats and Republicans, and Democrats and Republicans are not evenly geographically distributed across the Commonwealth following county and municipal lines.”
Because of that, some in Republican circles have said they feel the maps would need to be gerrymandered to favor Democrats if the goal were to create a map that would result in a 50-50 split of the state’s 18 U.S. House seats.
Samuel Wang, a Princeton University neuroscientist who runs the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, said it’s clear that mapmakers attempted to exploit the state’s natural clustering of Democrats into urban areas. He noted that the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas would have a concentrated handful of districts, while the map splits areas surrounding Reading and Harrisburg.
“Where you make the splits is where the art of the gerrymander lies,” Wang said. “They’ve chosen to encircle Philadelphia, and that gives a very packed Democratic district, and they’ve chosen to draw a line down some of these other population centers.”
Even without using election results or other data on partisanship, Wang said, other demographic variables such as population density and ethnicity can be used to predict partisan vote.
“And of course,” he wrote in an email, “these are seasoned politicians who know their state very well!”
Staffers for Scarnati and Turzai said Saturday that congressional candidates and even incumbents were minor factors in comparison with criteria the Supreme Court outlined: keeping districts compact, minimizing the number of counties and towns split, and the contiguity of the districts.
“It is easy to zoom in on an individual line and nitpick,” Neal Lesher, a spokesman for Turzai, said in an email.
One of their primary concerns, Lesher said, was making sure all of the districts met strict guidelines for population. “Just like squeezing a balloon, if you move one line it impacts the whole map and someone else is unhappy,” he said.
It is unclear whether the state Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, would accept a submission by two Republican leaders without a full vote by the legislature — even if Wolf were to approve it.
The court said it would draw a map itself if lawmakers and the governor can’t agree on one by Feb. 15.
Republican leaders, in a court filing late Friday, struck a defiant tone, saying they retained the right to file appeals or to “pass a new plan to replace any plan the court adopts.”
Staff writer Garland Potts and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Reporter Chris Potter contributed to this report. Source
Feb 9, 2018 Politics PA GOP Releases Redrawn Maps
Written by Paul Engelkemier, Managing Editor
The state Senate and House GOP released the redrawn Congressional map they are submitting to the Governor for his approval or as a starting point for negotiations ahead of the February 15th deadline.
“The Republican Legislative Leaders in the House and Senate have agreed to a Congressional District Map that complies fully with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order and opinion. We will be submitting our map to the Governor this evening,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said in a release.
The submission comes hours before the deadline the state Supreme Court set for the legislature to draw a new map after it ruled the current map unconstitutional.
Governor Wolf said in a statement he will review the map submitted.
“While the Court’s order did not appear to allow for two individuals to draw a map on behalf of the entire General Assembly, Governor Wolf will review Speaker Turzai and President Scarnati’s submission in consultation with the experts retained by the administration to determine his next course of action,” Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said in a statement.
Backed into a corner after weeks of hand-to-hand legal combat, majority Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature are reluctantly setting about drawing a new Congressional map.
Top Senate and House staffers said Tuesday their leaders have resigned themselves to try to comply with a Jan. 22 state Supreme Court order that ruled the current boundaries of Pennsylvania’s 18 U.S. House districts unconstitutional due to extreme partisan gerrymandering.
In a 4-3 vote, the court further ordered the production of new maps for the House districts in time for the May primary election. The court-imposed deadline is Feb. 9, or Friday.
“Our belief, in consult with lawyers and others, is that it’s better for us if we draw a map than if we don’t. So that’s our intention,” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Senate Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County.
The work is apparently starting with conversations and comparisons of drafts between the majority GOP caucuses in the House and Senate.
Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, both met with Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday afternoon in Wolf’s Capitol office, but there were no outward signs of a collaborative bi-partisan project.
“Regardless of the action of the Supreme Court we don’t give up our majorities just because they don’t like a map from 2011,” noted Crompton.
Any bill creating new district lines, however, will have to earn Wolf’s signature to become law. That may give the Democrat governor and his allies in the legislature some leverage on the new maps before week’s end.
Republican leaders were still incensed at the fact that they are being forced to proceed in the absence of a majority opinion from a court that split 5-2 on the question of constitutionality.
“There’s a lot of issues that we don’t know what the court is thinking, and that puts us a little bit behind the eight-ball,” Crompton said Tuesday afternoon.
“I get it. They (the districts) should be more compact. I get it. There should be the least amount of splits as feasible… But there’s a lot more to drawing a map than simply those two parameters.”
Still, a few possible parameters had begun to emerge by Tuesday afternoon for a replacement map.
Crompton said one factor Senate Republicans are very concerned about is trying to produce more compact districts while minimizing the number of voters who find themselves in new districts.
“There’s something to be said for the least amount of disruption that you can cause for voters. So we’re looking at that issue as well and trying to incorprate that into any proposal that we might support.”
Crompton could not, as of Tuesday afternoon, provide a maximum threshold of voter switches the Senate GOP is seeking, but he said that analysis will be done on every map that “we are serious about.”
In the vein of “limiting disruption,” it also appears the GOP majorities will try to avoid pitting the 12 Congressional incumbents who are intending to seek re-election this year against one another.
And, it appears likely state officials will work to preserve the existing “minority-majority” district in Philadelphia, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans.
The case arose from a lawsuit filed last summer by 18 registered Democrat voters and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, who alleged that partisan cutting of the Congressional lines after the 2010 census amounted to “viewpoint discrimination” against Democratic voters.
Defenders of the 2011 map – drafted by a Republican-controlled General Assembly and then-Gov. Tom Corbett – have said it checks all Constitutional requirements, and argued the Democrat plaintiffs are simply seeking guarantees of proportional representation that do not exist.
One source familiar with the case, noting Alito’s status as one of the more conservative members of the court, said even to hard liners still pushing for further legal manuevers, “getting nowhere with Alito… would be a strong dose of smelling salts.”
The task ahead won’t be easy, in part because the leaders have only left themselves three days to comply with the state court’s Feb. 9 deadline for legislative action.
GOP leaders reiterated earlier that – even if the court properly struck down the 2011 Congressional map – map-making is a legislative function and they intend to keep it that way.
“If Pennsylvania justices decide to start drawing maps of Congressional districts, we view that as a federal issue, and we will go to federal court,” Scarnati said before his meeting with Wolf.
He also raised the future prospect of filing a complaint with the state Jucdical Conduct Board over Justice David Wecht’s continued participation in the redistricting case despite 2015 campaign season comments railing against the state Congressional map as an example of extreme partisan gerrymandering.
Wecht, on Monday, said he was commenting at the time on gerrymandering generally as a problem, and felt he had fairly decided this case based on the facts and their application to the state Constitution.
Rank-and-file frustration over the situation bubbled into view Tuesday afternoon during a House State Government Committee meeting where the shell bill that ostensibly will carry the new district boundaries was moved to the House floor.
Several Republicans complained about activist courts being used to legislate election results.
Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, noted the current Congressional maps were used in 2012, “and the Democrats lost most of the races. In 2014, the Democrats lost most of the races. In 2016, the Democrats lost most of the races.
“So now they are suing to try to get it undone because they can’t win,” Roae continued.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery County, countered by challenging her colleagues to take the court’s assignment “as a challenge that is worth the taking…
“Let’s do our job,” Dean said. “Let’s get some maps that makes sense, that are compact…, and let’s not count Republican votes versus Democratic votes. Let’s be better than that.”
Feb 5, 2018 Huffpost Supreme Court Won’t Let Pennsylvania GOP Delay Drawing New Congressional Map
Top Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania suffered another defeat on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court denied their request to delay drawing a new congressional map ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state’s congressional mapgave Republicans such a clear political advantage that it “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state’s constitution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave Republican lawmakers about three weeks to redraw the map, and said the court would redraw the map itself if the lawmakers failed to agree on one with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D).
Hinting that there weren’t federal questions at stake, the Pennsylvania justices wrote the Pennsylvania Constitution was the “sole basis” for their decision.
Pennsylvania Republicans appealed the state court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the U.S. Constitution only granted legislatures, not state courts, the power to draw congressional districts. They also said an entirely new congressional map would cause chaos in the system’s election process, set to begin at the end of February. Pennsylvania’s top election official says they can run the election in a timely manner with a new map in place.
Their request went before Justice Samuel Alito, who oversees the 3rd Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania. Alito denied the request on Monday without referring it to the whole court.
“This was always a Pennsylvania state court case about Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court rightly refused the Republican Legislative leaders’ attempt to manufacture a federal issue,” said R. Stanton Jones, a partner at Arnold & Porter, which helped represent the plaintiffs: 18 Democratic voters from each of the state’s congressional districts. “Pennsylvania voters will now get to cast their ballots in fair elections this year.”
Wolf, who was named as a defendant in the suit but supported the challenge to the state’s congressional map, praised the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave him and lawmakers until Feb. 15 to come up with an agreement on a congressional map.
“The U.S. Supreme Court correctly recognized that there is no reason to delay implementing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order. Now, all parties must focus on getting a fair map in place,” he said in a statement. “Gerrymandering is wrong and we must correct errors of the past with the existing map. My team is ready, willing and able to work with the General Assembly to ensure a new map is fair and within the clear orders given by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”
Legal experts saw the GOP appeal to the Supreme Court as a long shot, because the case involved a challenge to Pennsylvania’s congressional map solely under the state’s constitution, not the federal one. In a 2015 case from Arizona, the Supreme Court ruledthat an independent commission could draw congressional districts, recognizing that state legislatures were not the sole bodies with control over the redistricting process.
In a joint statement, Pennsylvania House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R) were defiant, saying they still did not believe the state’s congressional map was illegal. They said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had “handicapped” Alito by failing to provide a full opinion to accompany its order to redraw the state’s congressional map.
“It is astounding that fourteen days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the map to be unconstitutional, the Justices have still not issued a majority opinion. This irresponsible approach handicapped Justice Alito by not providing him with more information, just as it has handicapped the Legislature,” they said in the statement.
The top Republicans added they would “do [their] best” to come up with a new map by the court’s imposed deadline, but “may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court.”
The ruling from the high court ended Republicans’ last pending legal appeal on redrawing the state’s map, but Republicans in the state may not be done fighting. Scarnati has indicated he won’t comply with a court order to hand over information to assist the court in drawing the map because he believes it’s unlawful.
The Brennan Center for Justice has described the Pennsylvania congressional map as one of the worst gerrymanders in the country. Controlling the redistricting process in 2011, Republicans drew a congressional map that gave them a considerable advantage. In every election since that map was implemented, Republicans have won 13 of 18 congressional seats, despite winning just about 50 percent of the vote.
This story has been updated with comments from Gov. Tom Wolf, R. Stanton Jones, Michael Turzai and Joe Scarnati. Source
Feb 1, 2018 newburghgazette.com Senate beginning process of redrawing district lines
In their brief filed yesterday, the Republican legislators – who include the president pro tempore of the state senate and the speaker of the state’s house of representatives – told the justices that the state supreme court’s decision “has cast Pennsylvania’s Congressional elections into chaos on the eve of the 2018 primary elections”, which are scheduled for May 18; March 6 is the deadline for candidates to file to run in the primaries.
Although the recent decision by the state Supreme Court is expected to result in new maps for this upcoming election cycle, the decision does nothing to change the partisan way that Pennsylvania voting districts maps are drawn.
“We’re getting a vehicle moving”, said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, following the committee meeting. Both of these bills remain in committee.
Fair Districts PA advocates for an independent citizens commission to draw congressional maps. Scarnati said about the legislation Monday. However, at least from the perspective of the majority Republicans, they’re mostly operating in the dark right now, as they don’t yet have an opinion from the state Supreme Court explaining how the current maps were unconstitutional, which they say is necessary to avoid drawing another map that doesn’t meet with the court’s definition of “constitutional”. They, along with the state’s lawmakers, ask to put off redrawing the map for a few more years. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, and Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said the state Supreme Court was left with no choice but to rule the congressional district map unconstitutional given what both senators characterized as the obvious appearance of an unconstitutional map. “However, one of the advocacy groups chose to file a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the 2011 lines”.
He said closed-door discussions with advocacy groups left him additionally frustrated as they failed to answer some of his more pressing questions about reform bills now introduced in the General Assembly, particularly what happens if a citizens’ commission can not agree to a map, and a special master has to step in and create a map to a court’s satisfaction.
The court order, issued January 22, gives the Republican-controlled Legislature until February 9 to create a replacement map, and Gov. Tom Wolf until February 15 to submit the revised map to the court. “If this is the reform those who have been scorching me in the press and on social media want, then we’ll see”.
The state Senate is getting on with the process of altering Pennsylvania’s current congressional districts, should the U.S. Supreme Court not put a halt to the process started by last week’s state Supreme Court order. “In a district where you can create a scenario that you know you’ll get elected if you only appeal to a certain portion of the population, you don’t have a lot of incentive to go out and work with the full, diverse spectrum of people’s backgrounds, interests and needs”.
This comes back to the core issue that needs to be addressed by the General Assembly – who should draw the maps?
The movement of the bill at the state level occurred while the Legislature awaits a potential stay in the enforcement of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order from the US Supreme Court. They need additional support from legislators to get them onto the floors of the House and Senate for a vote.
Six Republican secretaries of state ― from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and SC ― filed a joint amicus brief on Monday arguing that Pennsylvania could reasonably wait another few years to fix its congressional map. Source
Feb 1, 2018 The Car News Pennsylvania legislators go to justices on redistricting
The recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court discarding the congressional maps merely serves to reaffirm this position.
With a court-mandated deadline for a new Pennsylvania congressional map just two weeks away, Gov. Tom Wolf was in State College on Tuesday to join a panel for a town hall-style meeting on redistricting.
Wolf has enlisted Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin to advise him in evaluating the fairness of the new congressional map and he said Duchin has also told him there is no objective way to draw the map. They, along with the state’s lawmakers, ask to put off redrawing the map for a few more years.
The Senate State Government Committee on Monday unanimously advanced a vehicle bill for any redistricting plan that may or may not be agreed to in the coming days.
In their amicus brief, they argue that the “Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s order imposes an impossible schedule on state and local election officials”.
“All of us in government are stewards of a democratic tradition, and if that democratic tradition is somehow sullied, for whatever reason, then all of us, Democrats and Republicans, are worse off”, Wolf said. “It also comes on the eve of a midterm election. An orderly electoral process is an essential function of our Democracy”. Glenn Thompson (Pa. -05), Mike Kelly (Pa-03), Scott Perry (Pa. -04), Ryan Costello (Pa. -06), Patrick Meehan (Pa. -07), Bill Shuster (Pa. -09), Tom Marino (Pa. -10), Keith Rothfus (Pa. -12), Charlie Dent (Pa. -15) and Lloyd Smucker (Pa. -16). Twelve of the 18 districts are now represented by Republicans.
Approval of a final plan would then require at least seven votes, and at least one vote from each of the three groups.
Pennsylvania’s fair district representative Debbie Trudeau said while there is no flawless answer, there are options that would be better than the current political map.
Although he favors any ruling to eliminate partisan gerrymandering, Roe said that a “temporary fix” is not the answer to a centuries-old problem. “More than half of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has co-sponsored my bill because the majority of my colleagues recognizes the need for a permanent solution”.
“This court decision shouldn’t be treated as a reason to sit back”, said panelist Zak Kalp, a Penn State student and founder of the nonpartisan student organization Better Politics. It is why I am a proud prime sponsor of SB 22.
“The state court’s directive will forestall and impede the possibility of a full and vigorous campaign in the various congressional districts, which will not only harm the candidacy of numerous Amici Members, but will also significantly hamper the ability of the Amici Members’ constituents and voters to fully engage in the political process”, they wrote. “While other redistricting initiatives have been introduced that address some of these concerns, they fall short of resolving the core conflicts of interest in today’s process”. “We’re sorting ourselves into polarized communities”. “The only way that elected officials are going to do that is that if they feel a certain amount of pain. It’s about what are our values and how do we put them into practice”.
Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) noted, however, it was the secret political process used that was the constitutional flaw in the maps – something that should not be repeated regardless of who draws the new and future maps.
“It’s forcing their hand, to go back to the table for now”, he said. Source
Jan 31, 2018 The Hill Pa. state Senate leader refuses court order on redrawing district maps
The Pennsylvania state Senate president pro tempore said Wednesday he will not cooperate with the state Supreme Court’s request to turn over data after it found that the state’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
Joe Scarnati (R) said he wouldn’t turn over the data requested by the court.
“In light of the unconstitutionality of the Court’s Orders and the Court’s plain intent to usurp the General Assembly’s constitutionally delegated role of drafting Pennsylvania’s congressional districting plan, Sen. Scarnati will not be turning over any data identified in the Court’s Orders,” his lawyers wrote in a letter to the court.
The state’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the congressional map was gerrymandered to the point that it was unconstitutional. As a result, the state must draw a new map ahead of this year’s elections.
The state ordered the General Assembly to turn over files that “contain the current boundaries of all Pennsylvania municipalities and precincts” by Wednesday.
A lawyer for the General Assembly said in a separate filing that “the General Assembly and its Legislative Data Processing Center do not maintain ESRI shape files that contain current boundaries of all Pennsylvania municipalities and precincts,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The state Supreme Court decision was hailed as a major victory for Democrats, who argued the old map unfairly favored Republicans.
GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania earlier this month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the state court’s decision.
Lawyers for Republican state legislative leaders argued in a court filing Thursday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court violated a clause that allows state legislatures to handle congressional redistricting, The Associated Press reported.
The filing requests that the Supreme Court put on hold a lower courts ruling while it considers Republicans’ argument.
Pennsylvania currently has 13 Republicans five Democrats serving in the House.
The state had been reliably Democratic in presidential races, with the Democratic nominee winning the state in each election dating back to 1992. But the state was a fierce battleground in the 2016 election and narrowly went to Trump. Source
Jan 24, 2018 realclearpolitics Do Democrats Stand to Gain From Redrawn Pa. Maps? ANALYSIS
On Monday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania struck down the state’s Republican-drawn congressional map. Because it did so on state constitutional grounds, there is likely no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats immediately celebrated. Marc Elias, Hillary Clinton’s former counsel, tweeted: “Pennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down congressional map. Orders new map in time for 2018 election. Since the case was decided under the State constitution, there is no route to SCOTUS. There will be a new, fair map for 2018.”
I’m not sure this is correct. It’s hard to say without seeing the full opinion — and that is a very important caveat — but for right now, it appears that the court didn’t order fair districts so much as it ordered compact ones. This is an important distinction.
Perhaps because the 2018 elections are fast approaching, the court did not publish a full opinion, but rather entered an order, with the opinion to follow. After mandating that new maps be drawn by Feb. 9, the justices presented the following limitations on those maps: “any congressional districting plan shall consist of: congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.” Now, it’s entirely possible that the eventual opinion could insist that one of the plaintiff’s proposed fairness metrics, such as the efficiency gap, be incorporated into a new map, which would force something like a map electing nine Republicans and nine Democrats, regardless of geographical constraints. But it would be strange to set a three-week deadline for the legislature, and then add additional constraints halfway through.
So for now, at least, a map has to be compact, equi-populous, and most importantly, must not divide political subdivisions except when needed to ensure equality of population. If the court really means what it says with this last requirement, then there are probably only a handful of maps that can actually be drawn. Moreover, the map that comes out of this may end up strengthening the GOP’s position in an environment such as this one.
To see what I mean, I will focus in on Southeast Pennsylvania, where most of the competitive districts in the state reside. I’ll pay the most attention to Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Northampton, Lehigh, Berks and Lancaster counties, which you can see in this map of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Here is what the current districts in this area look like. They are quite a mess. Indeed, it isn’t difficult to see why the court wanted to strike them down, even if we don’t know exactly why it did so:
Using a tool known as Dave’s Redistricting App, which allows you to draw congressional districts, I’ll generate maps and show some of the limitations a strict interpretation of the court’s order imposes upon redistricters (again, with the caveat that we don’t know exactly what the criteria will eventually be). First, though, let’s detour to the northeast. Interestingly, there are three counties there – Luzerne, Lackawanna and Monroe – whose combined population is almost exactly the ideal size for a district. To comply with the order, you probably have to draw something like this district:
This is Matt Cartwright’s district, which was initially drawn as a Democratic “vote sink” – a collection of packed Democratic voters – but which has swung to the right over the past decade. This new district would actually lean Republican by two points. In this environment, it doesn’t pose a problem for him. If 2020 is a good Republican year, however, he could have problems.
We will begin by drawing Philadelphia districts. The city will hold two districts and part of a third, so we must draw at least two districts. The question is where the “leftovers” go. We could try putting the leftovers in the southwestern portion of the city, and combining them with Pat Meehan’s 7th District – the Delaware County-based district.
The problem with this is that the Delaware County-South Philly district is 30,000 residents shy of having enough people to create a full district. To make this work, you have to draw the 7th across three counties.
An interesting possibility would be to draw the two Philly districts like this, and leave the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill/Roxborough precincts for the 13th (the “bump” in the northwest). This probably technically satisfies the court’s compactness requirements the best, since the 13th basically becomes a box in this scenario; this also makes the 1st District minority-majority, which may be required by the Voting Rights Act.
But to keep things interesting, I’ll maintain the historical split, which puts northeastern Philly into its own area. Indeed, from 1902 through 2002, this traditionally Catholic, working-class area of Philadelphia had its own congressional district. From a “communities of interest” perspective (putting demographically similar areas with similar interests into the same district) this makes the most sense, although respecting communities of interest isn’t a factor to consider under the court order.
From here, there’s something of a fork. You can put NE Philly in the Bucks County-based 8th, or in the Montgomery County-based 13th. There are good reasons for and against this. If you put these voters in the 8th, you have to split Bucks County, which hasn’t been done since the 1870s. That said, this configuration is probably more compact than putting these voters in the 13th (although again, putting NW Philly in the 13th is probably what you do if you’re concerned about compactness). Regardless, I will play it out both ways. First, I will put these voters into the 8th. After you fill in southern Bucks County, the 8th moves a little less than a point toward Democrats.
Next, we have to decide what do to with the 7th. It becomes much more Democratic after shedding its Chester County exurbs and picking up precincts that had previously been placed in the 1st – it’s basically a guaranteed Democratic pickup. But Delaware County can’t support a single district on its own, so the 7th either has to extend into Montgomery County or into Chester County. If we put it into Montgomery County, the 13th has to go out into Berks County, and actually becomes somewhat marginal (about three points more Democratic than the country). The 15th district gets consolidated around Bethlehem and Allentown, but gets pushed into the redder areas of Bucks County and (probably) Carbon County. The 6th goes into Lancaster County. The results of this is a map that looks like this:
After filling in Pittsburgh, the rest of the state leans Republican by five points, and a lot of the remaining blue areas will go to finishing out the Pittsburgh seat. That’s not to say you can’t draw another blue district. It’s just hard, especially under the compactness criteria.
Alternatively, if we push the 7th into Chester County, the 6th gets pushed deeply into heavily Republican Lancaster County. The 13th pulls back into Montgomery County, and a new, swing-y 16th District probably has to be built around Reading. In this environment, the Democrats would probably win it.
Stepping back, if we had put northeast Philly into the 13th at step one, and pushed the 7th into Montgomery County, we get a map that looks something like this:
Note how the 8th District gets pushed toward Allentown, and the 15th now gets pushed into Berks. The district that contains Reading could be made into a swing district, but there are a lot of contingencies at work there. Most importantly, the three-way split of Montgomery County probably means this map isn’t acceptable.
Finally, if we had pushed the 7th into Chester County and put northeastern Philly into the 13th, we would get something along these lines:
What does this mean?
I’ve summarized the different partisanship orientations of the districts as follows. As you can see, there are tradeoffs under each map. The 7th always becomes unwinnable for Republicans, the 8th becomes more marginal, and the 6th and 15th tend to become harder to win for Democrats:
Here’s the real issue though: In a good environment for Democrats, a lot of these seats were set to flip anyway. So while this locks in a flip for Democrats in the 7th District, it also limits some of their upside. You can see this in the following chart. The way to read it is basically: “If the Democratic tide rises to ‘x’ level, how many seats would Democrats win in Pennsylvania?”
So, in a neutral year, the Democrats wouldn’t get any seats under the current plan (setting aside Meehan’s sex scandal), and would win one under the new plan (assuming Cartwright — pictured — holds on). If the environment were good enough to win R+1 districts, the first map that I drew would gain Democrats two seats (the 7th and the 8th), which is one more than other versions. But as you can see, the differences tend not to be substantial, and at higher levels of “wave,” most of the redrawn maps trail the current map for Democratic pickups. That’s because the Democratic vote in the state is so heavily clustered in Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties (almost half of Hillary Clinton’s votes came from these three, plus Allegheny-Pittsburgh), and since you can’t unpack those counties under the court’s order, there are limits to how much Democrats are likely to benefit from this order.
Of course, there are caveats. A lot of this is calculated off of PVI, which includes Donald Trump’s strong performance in the state in 2016. If we assume this was a fluke, and not the culmination of a realignment of rural/exurban Pennsylvania, Cartwright’s district looks a whole lot more secure, while the 6th and 15th are a whole lot more “gettable” in a Democratic wave. But also recall that PVI is calculated across two elections, so Trump’s coalition is already somewhat discounted here.
Second, it bears repeating that we don’t have the court’s final opinion. It may incorporate some “fairness” considerations, or loosen the compactness/splits requirement.
Third, and most importantly, there is a Democratic governor in the state. He will likely push for “fair” districts. But again, the court’s compactness and line-splitting requirements limit somewhat the ability to make this happen. If the parties can’t come to an agreement, the court will draw the lines. It’s tempting to say that the elected 5-2 Democratic majority on the court would select/draw a highly favorable map for Democrats. But they just passed on an opportunity to read something like the efficiency gap into the state’s constitution, which would have effectively mandated that Delaware/Montgomery/Philadelphia always be unpacked to achieve partisan symmetry. They also appear to have foreclosed the Democrats’ ability to string out districts from the inner suburbs to the exurbs (“baconmandering”) when they eventually control the process (possibly in 2020). I’d initially assumed the court would select a highly favorable map for Democrats. After contemplating the order, I’m not sure.
Perhaps most importantly, all of this is quickly drawn, with just a day or so to think about it. Who knows what mapmakers will come up with in a week or two dedicated to nothing but this question. My goal here isn’t to be exhaustive. Rather, it is just to emphasize that the court didn’t mandate fair districts, but rather ordered compact ones, and that these are two very different things. Moreover, there are important implications to this distinction, and they don’t necessarily work in Democrats’ favor in every environment. Source
Jan 22, 2018 Huffpost Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes Down State’s Congressional Map, Saying It Illegally Benefits GOP
Republicans had consistently received a 13-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation since 2012.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the state’s congressional map went so far to benefit Republicans that it “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state constitution.
The court, where Democrats have a 5-2 majority, blocked the use of the map in the 2018 midterm elections, ordered state lawmakers to begin to draw a new map.
The suit against the congressional map, which only challenged it under Pennsylvania’s state constitution, was one of the most watched voting rights cases in the country. The ruling could encourage groups to bring similar challenges against congressional gerrymandering cases in other states and bypass a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently considering two cases dealing with partisan gerrymandering.
Pennsylvania has been described as one of the worst gerrymandered states in the country, and analyses have found the map is responsible for at least three additional GOP seats in Congress. Republicans controlled the redistricting process in 2010 and drew the map to give them a considerable advantage. In the 2012, 2014 and 2016 elections they won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional seats, despite just winning about 50 percent of the vote.
The suit, brought by the League of Women Voters on behalf of 18 voters in each of the state’s congressional districts, said that GOP lawmakers had retaliated against Democratic voters for supporting Democratic candidates, violating the equal protection and free expression guarantees in the state constitution.
The justices gave GOP lawmakers until Feb. 9 to submit a new map and gave Gov. Tom Wolf (D) until Feb. 15 to approve it. Should the parties fail to reach an agreement on the plan, the justices said the court would move quickly on its own to develop a constitutional congressional map. The court said the new map could be expected by Feb. 19.
“Pennsylvania voters will finally be able to cast their ballots in districts that were fairly and constitutionally drawn,” David Gersch, one of the lawyers who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said in a call with reporters on Monday. “This is a tremendous day for Pennsylvania, tremendous day for the voters and it’s also a tremendous step by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.The current map is the worst map in Pennsylvania’s history.”
The justices indicated the state’s congressional primary on May 15 would proceed as scheduled.
The court only issued an order on Monday and said a full opinion would follow. In a dissenting statement, the court’s two Republicans, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Sallie Updyke Mundy, said they would not have issued a ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on its partisan gerrymandering cases. They agreed with a lower court’s finding, however, that the map raised “substantial concerns” about constitutional viability. In a separate dissenting opinion, Mundy expressed concern with the vagueness of the court’s order, arguing it had instructed the legislature to redraw the state’s congressional map without giving it any guidance on how to do so.
Justice Max Baer (D) wrote an opinion joining the majority in part and dissenting in part. He said he would have held off on redrawing the congressional map until 2020 so it didn’t throw the state’s 2018 midterm elections into chaos and confusion.
At oral arguments in Harrisburg last week, lawyers for House Speaker Michael Turzai (R) and Senate President Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) defended the map, saying that courts had never articulated a standard for when partisan gerrymandering was so egregious that it could be unconstitutional.
E. Mark Braden, a lawyer for Turzai, said it was inconceivable that a political body like a legislature, which is constitutionally tasked with drawing lines for Congress, would not take partisan considerations into account.
Scarnati and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) criticized the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, saying they intended to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the order to redraw the map.
“Today’s ruling by the State Supreme Court is a partisan action showing a distinct lack of respect for the Constitution and the legislative process. The PA Supreme Court has overstepped its legal authority and set up an impossible deadline that will only introduce chaos in the upcoming Congressional election. The Court had this case since Nov. 9, 2017 ― giving it over 10 weeks to reach this decision,” they said in a joint statement. “Yet, it has elected to give the legislature 19 days to redraw and adopt the Congressional Districts. With matters the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in the past, it afforded the General Assembly four months to make corrections.”
Gov. Wolf, a named defendant in the suit who supported striking down the maps, said his administration was assessing next steps. Wolf would have to sign off on any maps passed by the legislature.
“I strongly believe that gerrymandering is wrong and consistently have stated that the current maps are unfair to Pennsylvanians. My administration is reviewing the order and we are assessing the executive branch’s next steps in this process,” he said in a statement.
The statement continued, saying: “It is clear that with this ruling the Court is attempting to bypass the Constitution and the legislative process and legislate themselves, directly from the bench.”
R. Stanton Jones, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters that any appeal would be unsuccessful because the challenge to the congressional map was only brought under the state constitution, not the federal one.
“It’s well established that the United States Supreme Court does not review decisions of state court that exclusively construe state law, which is the exact situation you have here,” Jones said. “When people talk about federalism, the concept of federalism, this is an important part of it. The United States Supreme Court doesn’t get to tell a state’s highest court what is state law, in this case Pennsylvania law.”
Democrats praised the court’s verdict.
“This ruling is one more example of the courts telling Republican legislatures that drawing district lines for partisan purposes violates our democratic principles,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder, now head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, in a statement. “What the Republican party has been doing diminishes the voting power of Americans and contributes to the polarization of our political system. This year, Pennsylvania voters can finally look forward to casting ballots under a fair and legal congressional map.”
Jan 14, 2018 CBS Sunday Morning View Program videohere
Drawing the lines on gerrymandering
Federal judges this past week ordered a redrawing of the lines between Congressional Districts in North Carolina, while the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a similar ruling in Texas. And then there’s Pennsylvania — which features a Congressional map that, some critics say, looks like a cartoon. Our Cover Story is reported by Mo Rocca:
“Goofy’s over there, and he’s kickin’ Donald,” said Bonnie Marcus.
This is not a Rorschach test — and these are not patients. They’re suburban Philadelphia voters who live next door to Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, nicknamed “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” for its absurd shape:
“His ears are flapping!” Marcus said.
“But wait a minute: Would Goofy ever kick Donald?” Rocca asked.
“Not and stay in the Disney World,” Marcus replied.
This district is one of the most gerrymandered in America. It is, said Bill Wells, “a disgrace, a political disgrace. There’s no reason for that kind of gerrymandering. Here it is, folks, right in front of you.”
Welcome to Gerrymandering 101!
“Gerrymandering” is the manipulation of voting district lines, usually to give one party an advantage over the other.
The word comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed off on a salamander-shaped district, hence the term “gerrymander” (which sounds a lot better than “garry-mander”).
There are 435 Members in the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania has a lot of people, so it gets 18 of those House seats.
Some of these shapes — not just the 7th — are pretty wacky.
Now, you may ask: Why not just lay a nice rectangular grid over Pennsylvania? Problem solved, right?
Well, you can’t do that, because people don’t live evenly spread out, and each district has to have the same number of people. For that reason (and others we’ll get to later) the shapes of districts are almost never going to be perfect squares.
But how these shapes got to be so wacky is the issue here. Pennsylvania Democrats say the Republican-controlled State House drew these lines — or gerrymandered them — to create as many safe Republican seats as possible.
Last election, Republicans won a little more than half (54%) of the statewide vote, but the lion’s share of seats — 13 out of 18, more than two-thirds.
“We’re not getting the representation that we were intended to get,” Wells told Rocca. “And the politicians just jiggle it around to meet their needs, not our needs.”
They’re angry because they say their Democratic-leaning communities were deliberately kept out of the 7th, and lumped into the heavily-Republican 16th District, ensuring that both went red.
“It causes people, I think, to wonder why should they even go out to vote,” said Brenda Mercomes. “Is my vote gonna count?”
“It was done to us, personally,” said Wayne Braffman. “And there is no rational justification for that other than lying, naked power.”
Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, and both parties have long decried it.
Few current representatives want to talk about it. Iowa’s Rod Blum does: “We shouldn’t have to rig the system in our favor, or the Democrats shouldn’t have to rig the system in their favor.”
Blum is a Tea Party Republican who represents Iowa’s 1st, a Democratic-leaning district. Blum says he can’t afford to ignore any of his constituents. “With gerrymandering, the politician knows that they can be extreme right or extreme left and get reelected,” he said. “If the district was more like mine, split evenly, then you’re looking at every bill — ‘What’s a Republican think of this? What’s a Democrat think of this? What’s an Independent think of it?'”
His is not a typical district. Nationwide, gerrymandering is one reason that the number of competitive Congressional seats — those where both parties have a good shot at winning — has plunged over the last twenty years, from 164 to just 72.
District lines are redrawn every ten years, right after the census, usually by the state legislature, in a process known as redistricting.
Get a load of how the Pennsylvania 7th has changed over the years:
Few know this process better than Kim Brace. For more than 40 years, he’s been hired (mostly by Democrats) to help draw Congressional Districts. He was the only mapmaker we identified that was willing to talk to “Sunday Morning” on camera.
Rocca said, “You’ve got a lot of power in your pen.”
“That’s true. [But] it’s not your pen; it’s now a mouse,” Brace replied.
And armed with mountains of voter data, it’s become more science than art.
“Theoretically, you could say to a Republican incumbent, ‘Listen, the 5300 block of River Road is a lot more Democratic now. Let’s cut that out when we draw the map’?” Rocca asked.
“Sure, sure. That’s possible,” Brace said.
But he says there are a lot of factors that have to be considered — for instance, districts have to be contiguous, communities of interest should be kept together.
And how about this one? “Incumbent requests and incumbent protection — there’s something that the courts have recognized is a fact of redistricting life,” Brace said.
“‘Incumbent protection’ — like they’re spotted owls?”
“Or something along that line, yes.”
But this was precisely the rationale back in 2001 when, to protect the seat of Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush, Brace cut out a residential block, home to a young primary challenger named Barack Obama.
“You gerrymandered the future President of the United States out of a Congressional District?” Rocca asked.
“Right. So he then went for U.S. Senate, and used that elevation to then become president.”
“Not even a president could do what you did!”
“Probably not, I guess!”
While the general perception may be that gerrymandering is bad for democracy, Brace says that’s not always the case. “One person’s gerrymander is another one’s beautiful art creation.”
There may be no better example of this than Brace’s most famous (or infamous) creation: Illinois’ 4th, better known as “the Earmuffs.”
It was drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that racial minorities be able to elect “one of their own.” And so, he connected two Latino neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side by a narrow highway corridor:
And on each side of that narrow highway? The Illinois 7th, and the Illinois 5th.
Back in the ’90s, it was racial gerrymandering like this that dominated the discussion. Then, in 2010 the GOP launched an ambitious campaign to win control of state governments and redraw the lines in their favor.
They succeeded in a big way.
“It was a sea change,” Brace said. “We’ve now seen Congress being in control by the Republicans for this entire decade.”
While Republican House candidates won about half (49%) of the nationwide vote in 2016, they captured 55% of the seats — 241 to the Democrats’ 194.
But — and this is important — even if lines were not being drawn to favor Republicans, Democrats would still be at something of a disadvantage, says Stanford political scientist Jonathan Rodden. That’s because of where they live.
“Democrats have been clustered in cities in the industrialized states every since the New Deal, ever since FDR,” Rodden said. “Cities have become more Democratic, and rural areas more Republican.”
Rodden studies how increasingly Republicans are spread across rural areas and Democrats packed into urban areas. Consider the influence on a state like Missouri: “The Democrats are highly concentrated in St. Louis and Kansas City,” Rodden said. “The gubernatorial elections are always very close. It’s a place that Democrats can win statewide. But the best they can hope for in an eight-seat Congressional delegation is three seats, and the current outcome is two.”
So, is the issue gerrymandering or geography? “It’s geography andgerrymandering,” said Rodden. “In order to understand the outcomes we see, we have to understand how those two things interact.”
The issue of gerrymandering is before the Supreme Court right now, and a decision is expected this spring.
And Iowa’s Rod Blum is willing to risk any advantage gerrymandering currently gives his party.
Rocca asked, “If putting curbs on partisan gerrymandering meant ceding control of the House to the Democrats, how would you feel about that?”
“I’m okay with it,” Blum replied. “We need to recruit good candidates and we need to get out there and we need to do a good job of governing and we need to sell our message to the voters.”
“Losing an election is no small thing!”
“And I think the opposite. I think if you lose an election, it’s okay. That’s the way our government was set up — not to have these people be here 30, 40, 50 years.”
As for our voters in Pennsylvania, the state court there is considering re-drawing the map. For them, a decision can’t come soon enough.
“Everyone wants to be treated fairly,” said voter Nancy Murphy. “Gerrymandering isn’t fair. It’s cheating. It’s taking our votes and putting them where it won’t make a difference.”
June 27, 2016 New Yorker Drawing the Line
How redistricting turned America from blue to red.
By Elizabeth Kolbert
David Daley’s “Ratf**cked” examines the legacy of the redmap initiative.Illustration by Todd St. John
Sometime around October 20, 1788, Patrick Henry rode from his seventeen-hundred-acre farm in Prince Edward, Virginia, to a session of the General Assembly in Richmond. Henry is now famous for having declared, on the eve of the Revolution, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”—a phrase it’s doubtful that he ever uttered—but in the late seventeen-eighties he was best known as a leader of the Anti-Federalists. He and his faction had tried to sink the Constitution, only to be outmaneuvered by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. When Henry arrived in the state capital, his adversaries assumed he would seek revenge. They just weren’t sure how.
“He appears to be involved in gloomy mystery,” one of them reported.
The Constitution had left it to state lawmakers to determine how elections should be held, and in Virginia the Anti-Federalists controlled the legislature. Knowing that his enemy Madison was planning a run for the House of Representatives, Henry set to work. First, he and his confederates resolved that Virginia’s congressmen would be elected from districts. (Several other states had chosen to elect their representatives on a statewide basis, a practice that persisted until Congress intervened, in 1842.) Next, they stipulated that each representative from Virginia would have to run from the district where he resided. Finally, they stuck in the shiv. They drew the Fifth District, around Madison’s home in the town of Orange, to include as many Anti-Federalists as possible.
An ally of Madison’s who attended the session in Richmond wrote to him that while it was unusual for the legislature to “bend its utmost efforts” against a single individual, this was, indeed, what had happened: “The object of the majority of today has been to prevent yr. Election in the house of Representatives.” Another friend reported, “The Counties annexed to yours are arranged so, as to render your Election, I fear, extremely doubtful.” George Washington, too, was pessimistic; Madison’s defeat seemed to him “not at all improbable.”
Henry’s maneuver represents the first instance of congressional gerrymandering, which is impressive considering that Congress did not yet exist. (One of his biographers has observed that Henry was fortunate that “the wits of Virginia” weren’t quick enough to invent the word “henrymandering.”) Since then, every party out of power has railed against the tactic. Meanwhile, every party in power has deployed it. The Federalists, when they got their turn, gerrymandered just as energetically as the Anti-Federalists. So did the Whigs, the Democrats, and, once the Whigs collapsed, the Republicans. In the eighteen-thirties, the Anti-Masonic Party briefly came to power in Pennsylvania. The Party used its hour upon the stage to push through a round of gerrymandering.
In contrast to our union, gerrymandering actually has grown more perfect with time. Henry had only his gut to go on, and his gut, it turned out, wasn’t that reliable. In spite of his machinations, the Fifth District elected Madison. Today, when party functionaries draw district lines, they have at their disposal detailed census results, precinct-level voter tallies, and a cloud’s worth of consumer choices. The result, David Daley argues in “Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy” (Liveright), is a system so rigged that it hardly matters anymore who’s running for office.
Much of “Ratf**ked” is devoted to a Republican scheme optimistically called redmap, for Redistricting Majority Project. redmap was created in early 2010, at a point when the country’s electoral map was largely blue. In twenty-seven states, Democrats held the majority of seats in both houses of the legislature, and in six more they held a majority in one house. The Presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the House of Representatives were all in Democratic hands. To describe their own party, Republicans were using words like “wounded” and “adrift.”
And, as bad as things looked at the time, the G.O.P.’s prospects down the road looked even worse. In 2011, new census figures were due to be released, and this would trigger a round of redistricting. Republicans, Daley writes, were facing “a looming demographic disaster.”
The idea behind redmap was to hit the Democrats at their weakest point. In several state legislatures, Democratic majorities were thin. If the Republicans commissioned polls, brought in high-powered consultants, and flooded out-of-the-way districts with ads, it might be possible to flip enough seats to take charge of them. Then, when it came time to draw the new lines, the G.O.P. would be in control.
“People call us a vast right-wing conspiracy,” Karl Rove told potential donors to the project at an early fund-raiser in Dallas. “But we’re really a half-assed right-wing conspiracy. Now it’s time to get serious.”
Daley conveys what happened next through the example of David Levdansky, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Levdansky, a Democrat, had served in Harrisburg for thirteen terms. He was running for a fourteenth in a picnics-and-handshakes sort of way when flyers with out-of-state postmarks started landing in his constituents’ mailboxes.
“Stop David Levdansky from increasing taxes by a billion dollars again,” one declared.
“David Levdansky voted to waste $600 million taxpayer dollars and build an Arlen Specter library,” a second announced.
“$600 million down the toilet just to honor Arlen Specter,” a third flyer lamented. (Specter, then the state’s senior U.S. senator, had recently switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic.)
Between mid-October and early November, prospective voters in Levdansky’s district, south of Pittsburgh, received something like two dozen pieces of negative mail. The mail campaign was reinforced by equally negative cable-TV ads.
Levdansky tried to explain that the information in the flyers was false. The appropriation he’d voted for was to help finance a new library at Philadelphia University, and it amounted to just two million dollars. But the truth was no match for redmap. Levdansky lost his seat by a hundred and fifty-one votes.
“The fucking Arlen Specter library,” he tells Daley.
Others who found themselves in redmap’s crosshairs met similar fates. Daley, a journalist who now edits the Web site Salon, goes to interview a second former Pennsylvania representative named David Kessler. The two meet in a pizza parlor near Reading.
“I could have been running against that saltshaker and I would have lost,” Kessler says. “Because it all came down to those mailers.” One flyer sent to Kessler’s constituents likened the “$600 million” Arlen Specter library to the Taj Mahal.
This pattern was repeated in normally sleepy legislative districts from North Carolina to Oregon. All told, in 2010 Republicans gained nearly seven hundred state legislative seats, which, as a report from redmap crowed, was a larger increase “than either party has seen in modern history.” The wins were sufficient to push twenty chambers from a Democratic to a Republican majority. Most significantly, they gave the G.O.P. control over both houses of the legislature in twenty-five states. (One was Pennsylvania.) The blue map was now red.
Two of the most common gerrymandering techniques are “packing” and “cracking.” In the first, the party in charge of redistricting tries to “pack” voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible, to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win. In the second, blocs of opposition voters are parcelled out among several districts, to achieve the same goal.
Both techniques were brought to bear in Pennsylvania. The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.
The original gerrymander—named for Massachusetts’ ninth governor, Elbridge Gerry—was a sinuous blob that wound around Boston. (“The Gerry-Mander: A new species of Monster” read the headline over a cartoon of the district that ran in the March 26, 1812, edition of the Boston Gazette.) Among the misshapen districts to emerge from Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan is one Daley describes as looking “like a horned antelope barrelling down a hill on a sled.” Another has been compared to Donald Duck kicking Goofy in the groin. So skillfully were the lines drawn that in 2012—when President Obama carried Pennsylvania by three hundred thousand votes and the state’s Democratic congressional candidates collectively outpolled their G.O.P. rivals by nearly a hundred thousand votes—Republicans still won thirteen of Pennsylvania’s eighteen seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Arguably the most distorted map in the country” is how one researcher described the Pennsylvania districts. “In Pennsylvania, the Gerrymander of the Decade?” the Web site Real Clear Politics asked.
Another redmap target was Michigan. In 2010, the project poured a million dollars into legislative campaigns in the state, an expenditure that helped elect Republican majorities in both chambers. When the state’s new congressional map was unveiled in 2011, one commentator likened it to a psychedelic confection, “with districts swirling around Southeast Michigan like colors in a Willy Wonka lollipop.” Roll Call labelled Michigan’s revamped Fourteenth District one of the “five ugliest” in the country. The Fourteenth, which starts in Detroit, snakes through eastern suburbs like Grosse Pointe, and then abruptly juts west and north to Pontiac, has an outline that resembles Bart Simpson holding a fishing pole. It became known as “the 8 Mile Mess,” after a major thoroughfare that forms one of its boundaries. (Its rivals for the ugliest-district award included North Carolina’s Fourth, nicknamed “the Hanging Claw,” and Maryland’s Third, dubbed “the Pinwheel of Death.”)
redmap’s strategists were so pleased with how the 8 Mile Mess and the lollipop swirls performed in November of 2012 that they boasted about it in an end-of-year analysis. “The 2012 election was a huge success for Democrats at the statewide level in Michigan,” they wrote. “Voters elected a Democratic U.S. Senator by more than 20 points and reelected President Obama by almost 10 points.” Still, Republicans ended up with the lion’s share of the state’s congressional seats—nine, to the Democrats’ five.
Daley’s account of redmap’s craftiness is compelling—so compelling that it almost undoes itself. If gerrymandering is all-important, it’s hard to explain how redmap ever got anywhere. In 2010, Republicans were dealing with lines that had, in several key states, been drawn by Democrats. Yet the G.O.P. managed to win control not only of state legislatures but of Congress.
Daley addresses this problem by presenting 2010 as an electoral outlier. First came the unanticipated frenzy of the Tea Party. Then came Citizens United. The Supreme Court’s decision turned the usual torrent of campaign cash into Niagara Falls.
redmap was funded by a super-pac-like group called the Republican State Leadership Committee. In the aftermath of Citizens United, the R.S.L.C. raised nearly thirty million dollars. (Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, contributed $1.4 million; Reynolds American, owner of R. J. Reynolds and the American Snuff Company, kicked in another $1.3 million.) Many of the contributions—roughly eighteen million dollars’ worth—were received just weeks before Election Day. To the extent that state lawmakers like Levdansky and Kessler even realized what was going on, they didn’t have time to respond.
The blue equivalent of the R.S.L.C. is the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. By the logic of “Ratf**ked,” it should have been fighting redmap tooth and nail. And yet it seems to have been caught napping. Daley has no real explanation for this, aside from the old Will Rogers joke, “I belong to no organized political party. I am a Democrat.” When Daley interviews Representative Steve Israel, of New York, who’s in charge of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Israel tells him, “The Republicans have always been better than Democrats at playing the long game.”
Credit for coining the word “ratfuck” is often given to Donald Segretti, one of the dirty tricksters who worked on Richard Nixon’s 1972 reëlection campaign. (A typical Segretti “ratfuck” involved composing a letter on Senator Edmund Muskie’s letterhead accusing one of Muskie’s rivals for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Senator Henry Jackson, of having fathered an illegitimate child.) The term comes in so handy in politics that it could be—and probably is—used all the time. Only rarely, though, does it make it into print, and it’s from one of these appearances that Daley draws his title.
As Daley tells it, the story begins in 1989. Lee Atwater, who, a year earlier, as manager of George H. W. Bush’s Presidential campaign, had said of Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, that he was going to “strip the bark off the little bastard,” had just become chairman of the Republican National Committee. The map that confronted Atwater—much like the one that would later confront the R.S.L.C.—was awash in blue. Atwater decided Republicans needed to “do something about redistricting,” and he assigned this task to the R.N.C.’s counsel, Ben Ginsberg. The “something” Ginsberg came up with was an appeal to the Congressional Black Caucus.
The caucus didn’t have much reason to listen to the R.N.C. At the time, it had zero Republican members (and today it has just one). But Ginsberg argued that when it came to redistricting—or, from another perspective, gerrymandering—the two groups shared a common interest. How about if they collaborated?
The pitch worked. The R.N.C. and the Congressional Black Caucus joined forces to press for the creation of more majority-black districts. These districts were drawn so as to concentrate, or “pack,” African-American voters, a move that had a dramatic and possibly permanent effect. Consider the example of Georgia. In 1990, the state sent nine Democrats to Congress. Eight of them were white; the ninth was the civil-rights leader John Lewis. In 1994, the state sent three African-Americans to Congress. The trade-off was that only one white Democrat got elected (and he switched parties five months later). Perhaps not coincidentally, in 1994, Republicans took control of the House. In an interview with this magazine the following year, Ginsberg said he was convinced that the alliance with the Black Caucus had been crucial to the G.O.P.’s victory. Asked if the strategy had had a name, he said no, then jokingly suggested “Project Ratfuck.”
Like revolutions, ratfucks often turn on their own. In the case of redmap, this may be karmic, or it may simply be mathematical. The science of gerrymandering is now so precise that most incumbents’ main fear is a primary challenge, and here the best defense is to play to the lunatic fringe. The net result, as many analysts have noted, is increasing polarization. Daley takes this analysis a half step further, arguing that the control Republicans exercised over the latest round of redistricting is the very reason the Party has lost control over its members. The representatives who make up the House Freedom Caucus—the group that last year forced House Speaker John Boehner to resign—hail from districts so red that the biggest danger they face is being branded insufficiently immoderate. Daley quotes James Huntwork, a Republican election-law expert, who describes a primary campaign in a typically lopsided district as a contest between one candidate who says, “I am completely crazy!” and one who says, “I am even crazier than you!”
What is to be done about all this? Over the past few decades, dozens of lawsuits have been filed to block redistricting plans on the ground that they disenfranchise one party’s voters or the other’s. A few of these challenges have made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, without much success. (The Court has sometimes intervened in cases of racial gerrymandering, and it recently agreed to hear a challenge to the lines Republicans drew for Virginia’s House of Delegates. The suit alleges that the lines reduce the influence of minority voters by “packing” them into too few districts.)
In the meantime, several states, including Iowa and California, have tried to slay the Gerry-Mander by shifting responsibility for redistricting from their legislatures to independent boards. Perhaps the most disturbing chapters of “Ratf**ked” deal with what happens when this sort of civic-minded effort bumps up against the realities of partisan politics. (Think of a small bunny bumping up against a ten-ton truck.)
Daley recounts how, in 2000, Arizona voters opted to turn redistricting over to a board made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent. The commission’s maiden effort, in 2001, was generally regarded as an improvement over previous plans. But by 2011 both Democrats and Republicans had figured out how to game the system, and Arizona’s experiment in bipartisanship devolved into ever more devious forms of ratfucking. One of the commissioners was accused of lying about contacts with Democratic Party officials. A group that claimed to be working for “fair” districts turned out to be funded by a Koch-brothers-linked conservative network. The Republican governor tried to oust the commission’s chairwoman, charging her with “gross misconduct.” The only basis for the charge seemed to be that the governor did not care for the way the new districts had been drawn.
“The closer one looks, the less independent the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission appears,” Daley writes. He finds the situation so disheartening that he proposes the whole election system be revamped. States, he suggests, should return to the multi-member districts that were popular back in Patrick Henry’s day. There is no reason to expect this or any other reform to be enacted. Pretty much by definition, gerrymandering suits those in power.
As far as the upcoming election is concerned, a redmap victory seems almost guaranteed. In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans. And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked, Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats. A Trumpocalypse, if such a thing is possible, could put seemingly safe districts in play. But few pundits see that as likely.
In preparation for the next census, Democrats have come up with a redmap-like plan of their own. They call it Advantage 2020, and say they hope to fund it to the tune of seventy million dollars. Republicans, for their part, have announced redmap 2020. Their spending goal? A hundred and twenty-five million dollars. ♦ Source
Jan 10, 2018 mcall.com Judges Rule Pennsylvania can keep congressional map
Pennsylvania can keep its congressional map, a judicial panel in Philadelphia ruled Wednesday, rejecting an argument from a group of Democratic voters who contended it should be thrown out because the state lawmakers who created the map in 2011 gerrymandered it to help Republicans.
The court cast aside the argument that districts should not consider politics, saying partisanship is part of the system.
“The task of prescribing election regulations was given, in the first instance, to political actors who make decisions for political reasons,” Circuit Court Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote in the majority opinion in the case. “Plaintiffs ignore this reality.”
The ruling came a day after a court threw out North Carolina’s congressional map, finding it went too far to help Republicans.
The 2-1 ruling in the Pennsylvania case is the latest in a spate of recent lawsuits on gerrymandering — including three in Pennsylvania alone — brought as Democrats try to win the U.S. House of Representatives this year and establish new ground rules for the next round of redistricting after results are in from the 2020 census.
Courts have found in the past that it’s wrong to make maps to limit the voices of racial minorities. The latest cases focus on a different issue: Whether it’s OK to draw district lines to help — or hurt — political parties.
Pennsylvania is a political swing state by many measures. It’s been alternating Republican and Democratic governors, is represented in the U.S. Senate by a member of each party and voted for each of the last two presidents — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Donald Trump.
But when it comes to the U.S. House, Republicans have dominated, winning 13 of the state’s 18 seats in each of the last three elections. That came even though Democrats received more congressional votes in the state in 2012.
Plaintiffs in the case argued Republicans drew oddly shaped maps to make a handful of districts where Democrats would have huge electoral advantages and more where Republicans would be likely to win.
The plaintiffs contended that that diluted their voice and resulted in policies that don’t represent Pennsylvania.
The main question in the case, which was tried last month, was legal: Is that kind of mapmaking permissible?
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the Elections Clause in the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted to mean states can’t give either party an advantage.
One judge in the case, Michael Baylson, was convinced. He called gerrymandering “a wrong in search of a remedy” and said the Elections Clause provides that.
Lawyers for the main defendants, Republican legislative leaders, said there’s no such provision.
“For the past several months, plaintiffs have made dozens of strained legal arguments against the map and the majority decision once again invalidated the plaintiffs’ position,” Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican, said in a statement.
An appeal in the case would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Alice Ballard, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said she and her clients were still processing the ruling and the one from North Carolina and considering their options.
A separate challenge to Pennsylvania’s congressional map is pending before the state Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments on the topic for next week in Harrisburg. Legislative Republican leaders on Wednesday filed documents in that case, arguing the Democratic voters who sued “are attempting to achieve through the courthouse what they could not in the voting booths.”
Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo contributed to this report. Source
Dec 12, 2017 post-gazette.com ‘This is a gerrymandered map,’ West Chester professor says in redistricting trial
A West Chester University political science professor testified Tuesday in a state gerrymandering trial that Pennsylvania’s congressional map splits “communities of interest” such as municipalities, counties, and other areas to an extent unseen in previous maps.
“The 2011 map carves up Pennsylvania’s communities of interests at an unprecedented level and contains more anomalies than ever before,” said John J. Kennedy, who has been at West Chester University for two decades. The effect of the map, he said, is to disadvantage Democratic voters and favor Republicans.
“This is a gerrymandered map,” he summed it up for the court.
His testimony came Tuesday afternoon, in the second day of a state trial that will ultimately be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The suit is brought by a group of Democratic voters, who are challenging the congressional map adopted in 2011 as an unfair partisan gerrymander designed to maximize the number of Republicans winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The map discriminates against Democrats, the group contends.
Under the congressional map, Republicans have consistently won 13 of the 18 House seats, even as votes in the state have been roughly evenly split, with Pennsylvania electing both President Trump and former President Obama; Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey; Gov. Wolf and former Gov. Tom Corbett.
During cross-examination, a lawyer for House Speaker Mike Turzai, Robert Tucker, questioned whether other reasons could explain the map: the clustering of Democrats into urban areas, the need to keep populations equal across districts, the protection of incumbents.
Kennedy said he disagreed with some of those criteria, such as protection of incumbents, and that others would not necessarily lead to the current congressional map.
His analysis focused on “communities of interest,” which are often considered in the redistricting process. Pennsylvanians, he said, are particularly inclined to identify themselves by neighborhoods, towns, and regions rather than with the state as a whole.
“Communities are important to our identities as Pennsylvanians. Residents of [Delaware County] have a different identity from residents of Amish Country,” he said.
For example, he took issue with Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, which stretches from Hershey to Allentown but separates Allentown from areas around it. That represents a dilution of Allentown’s Democratic votes, he said.
“The minor league baseball team is the Lehigh Valley IronPigs,” he said. “It’s not the Allentown-Hershey IronPigs.”
Earlier Tuesday, lawyers for Republican lawmakers cross-examined University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen, who testified he had a computer program draw 1,000 simulated maps that were all more neutral than the actual political map.
Chen’s maps were drawn according to five criteria: keeping equal populations across districts, maintaining contiguity of districts, minimizing the number of split counties, minimizing the number of split municipalities, and keeping districts as geographically compact as possible.
A lawyer for Turzai asked whether other, nonpartisan criteria could account for the current map; Chen said it did not fall within the scope of his analysis. The lawyer also questioned Chen’s methodology, including its not taking into account the previous congressional map and determining whether an area is Republican or Democratic based on a simple majority of votes cast in previous elections.
He also walked Chen through some of the maps the program had drawn, saying some of the districts in those samples were sprawling and had irregular borders.
The trial is expected to last through the week. The case, League of Women Voters vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has been fast-tracked by the state Supreme Court as a matter of public interest, and Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson is tasked with issuing findings of facts and conclusions of law by the end of the year.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will then make its decision soon after, likely in early January; if the challenge is successful and the state’s map is declared unconstitutional, it could be ordered redrawn before the 2018 elections. Source
Dec 8, 2017 The Inquirer Inside the gerrymandering data top Pa. Republicans fought to keep private
Republican lawmakers used detailed data on the partisan leanings of voters when they created the current Pennsylvania congressional map, according to documents federal judges had ordered them to turn over in a trial that began this week.
Lawyers for House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati had fought to keep private a trove of documents as they prepared for the trial, which began Monday in Philadelphia. They also sought to block the documents in a separate, state gerrymandering trial that begins next week in Harrisburg.
Among them are maps that contain detailed data on partisanship across the state, which experts said appear to confirm widespread suspicion that Republicans had intentionally drawn the map to favor their party. One map’s database contains details for each of the more than 9,000 voting districts in the state, including the races and ethnicities of voters and results from state and national elections from 2004 through 2010. Also included are metrics that appear to rate each voting district’s level of partisanship.
After the judges ordered the documents turned over, lawyers for the Republicans asked that anything not used as evidence in the trial — the data were not introduced, although analysis of it was — be destroyed within 24 hours of the trial’s conclusion.
A spokesman for Turzai dismissed any suggestion that they were trying to conceal the dataset, which he said contained no proof of intent to gerrymander.
But similar datasets have become key pieces of evidence in other gerrymandering challenges across the country, including in North Carolina and in a case out of Wisconsin now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republicans attempted to hide the data because it “undercuts their story in a big way,”said Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “Why do you have all this data, right? ‘I wasn’t trying to flee the country, but I had $10,000 and my passport in a canvas bag.’ ”
GOP efforts to keep data private
Lawyers for Turzai and Scarnati attempted multiple times to block production of documents, to avoid depositions, to keep logs of documents confidential, and to keep testimony under seal. The judges rejected the bulk of those requests.
Among the documents turned over in the case, Agre v. Wolf, was the spreadsheet containing partisanship data at the precinct level, along with map files containing partisanship data at the county, town, and voting district level.
Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Turzai, said the data in question wasn’t exclusively Turzai’s by any means.
“There’s a big fallacy about this data: Everybody used the same data,” Miskin said. “There was no one caucus’ data or one person’s data. We all agreed on the data.”
Lawyers at the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, which is bringing a state lawsuit against the congressional map, had also attempted to obtain documents from Turzai, but state judges blocked those attempts.
After the center’s lawyers evidently were able to obtain a copy of the data and maps from the federal case, according to an expert report they filed, lawyers for the Republicans tried to block the data from being used in the state case.
Miskin said Turzai was not specifically attempting to keep the dataset and maps from being handed over but was trying to uphold the doctrine of legislative privilege, meant to protect legislators’ ability to freely deliberate as they make law.
In testimony read aloud in court Wednesday from deposition transcripts, a Republican staffer involved in the redistricting process, William Schaller, said mapmakers had election results data from a nonpartisan legislative agency that compiled information from the Pennsylvania Department of State. He confirmed that the data used included election results at the county, town, and precinct levels.
What’s in those spreadsheet and maps
Examples of maps created using the data provided by Turzai. Clockwise from top left: Residential blocks; water features; homes of then-incumbent U.S. Representatives; major roads and railroads.
The documents obtained by The Inquirer and Daily News consist of files for 13 maps, each with a dataset attached. Some of those contain generally available data, such as major roads or bodies of water. Another shows the home addresses of the then-incumbent U.S. Representatives; courts have ruled that protecting incumbents is an acceptable principle for redistricting.
Three map datasets contain partisanship data at varying geographies.
The map with the most detailed data contains information on each of the more than 9,000 voting districts in the state, with information such as racial and ethnic breakdown and election results for races from 2004 through 2010. Also included are the two partisanship scores that, while unclear how they were calculated, appear to measure how Republican or Democratic a precinct votes. The higher a positive value, the greater the margin by which Republicans won in those precincts; the lower a negative value, the stronger the Democratic advantage.
With that precinct-level data, maps can be drawn to precise partisan specifications.
What the experts say it means
Told of the data and what it includes, four experts — Li; Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles; James A. Gardner, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law; and Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School —said that the collection of partisanship data itself isn’t unusual or telling, but since the outcome of the mapping heavily favored Republicans, the data suggests an attempt to gerrymander.
“Given a congressional map that appears to seriously lock in members of the Republican Party, it’s a little less benign,” Levitt said.
Such data are actually required in some states, they said, for a positive purpose: To create competitive or politically neutral maps. That’s not what happened here, they said.
“So you’re left with, I guess, at least two plausible accounts: One is unbelievable incompetence,” Gardner said. “And the other is … deliberately trying to partisan gerrymander.”
Even before knowing for sure Pennsylvania lawmakers had the partisanship data, Stephanopoulos said, he was confident they had it.
“It’s completely unsurprising they would have done it. If you’re trying to draw a gerrymander, if you’re trying to draw a map for partisan advantage, you need to have good partisan data,” Stephanopoulos said. “This evidence is confirmation they were thinking about partisanship when they were drawing districts.”
In response to the “so-called experts,” Miskin, the spokesman for Turzai said: “Clearly, by experts using the term ‘gerrymandering,’ and claiming that it’s gerrymandered, they are biased.”
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of voting districts statewide. Source
Dec 7, 2017 WHYY Day three of Pa. gerrymandering trial brings insights to legislative process, but secrecy remains
On day three of the federal trial contesting Pennsylvania’s congressional map, key Republican staffers testified that partisan data was used during the 2011 redistricting process.
Behind the scenes, a dispute over the depositions of House Speaker Michael Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) has bubbled up in court documents.
In the case, a group of Pennsylvania voters claim they have been harmed by partisan gerrymandering and are calling for a new map in time for the 2018 congressional midterm elections.
At the time of the last redistricting in 2011, Scarnati held his current leadership role and Turzai was majority leader in the House.
In the lead-up to the trial, there was fierce debate over whether and to what extent the two leaders would participate. Both hoped to avoid the proceedings altogether by claiming “legislative privilege.”
Pending a court decision, these depositions remain inaccessible to the public.
In the meantime, plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a request for sanctions against Turzai and Scarnati for failing to comply with court orders.
“Defendants’ actions show a bad faith disregard for the Orders of this Court, and a sanction is called for,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the sanction request. “Defendants are trying to hide evidence of their intent to gerrymander in enacting the 2011 redistricting plan, and they are ignoring Court Orders to allow discovery on the issue.”
That request has produced a court document that at least sheds light on what Turzai wouldn’t say during his Nov. 28 deposition.
Who gave direction to the staff on what map should look like?
Did Congressman Bob Brady support the bill?
How did anyone communicate to you that a group of Democrats supported the bill?
Are the state rules as to setting district lines good rules that are important to follow?
What did you do to get the Democrats on board for bipartisan support?
What are the names of staff members who worked on the map?
Was any partisan intent at the play in the creation of the 17th district?
Were some legislators upset that the Lehigh Valley was being divided between two congressmen?
Was the 17th district intended to concentrate Democratic votes?
Do you know why some Democratic members voted for the map?
Did Bill Schaller (“the head of our redistricting”) meet with members of Congress or their staff?
The three-judge panel has not ruled on the call for sanctions against the lawmakers.
Keystone Crossroads reached out to Speaker Turzai’s office in an attempt to clarify his rationale for not answering these questions, but did not hear back before publication of this story.
In Wednesday’s court proceedings, judges heard testimony from two high-level Republican staffers.
Neither William Schaller, director of Republican district operations, nor Erik Arneson, top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pillegi, were present in the courtroom.
Instead, in a scene reminiscent of a drama rehearsal, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants, took turns acting out the staffers’ testimony before the gallery.
At one point, defense attorney Brian Paszamant asked the judges if he should play the part of himself in the reading. Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith responded that he “fit the part,” which drew a few chuckles from all sides.
Schaller, director of reapportionment services for the House Republicans at the time, testified that he was tasked by leadership with developing the western half of the 2011 congressional district map. He said the Senate developed the eastern half of the state.
“They had their part and we had our part,” Schaller testified.
In his deposition, Schaller affirmed that partisan data — voter party registration information and election results broken down by the county, municipal, voting precinct and census block level — was one of many factors considered in creating the map.
Others included: population, past districts, U.S. Census data by race, incumbents’ residencies, and the Voting Rights Act, which holds that redistricting shouldn’t disenfranchise minority voters.
Schaller said he began working on the map over the summer of 2011 and produced multiple drafts. After consulting with caucus members, he made revisions and those conversations drove the final version of the map.
Erik Arneson, former communications and policy director for Pileggi, testified in his deposition that he had minimal input in the 2011 redistricting process. But he also confirmed that partisan data was considered and said leaders “intended to respect incumbency” in the new map.
He testified to meeting with Republican Congressman Bill Shuster (PA-9) about redistricting and to receiving input from Democratic Congressman Bob Brady (PA-1). Schaller recalled meeting with U.S. Rep Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-5) about the map.
Both Schaller and Arneson characterized their roles in redistricting as a part of the overall legislative processes in Harrisburg.
“We got a bill enacted to law. As far as I’m concerned, that was a success,” said Arneson, who now heads the state’s Office of Open Records.
Appearing in person, attorneys representing the voters called State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) — a member of the State Government Committee — as a witness to testify about the process in which the congressional district map was enacted.
Senate Bill 1249 was first introduced by Pileggi, Scarnati, and State Sen. Charles McIlhinney (R-Bucks) on Sept. 14, 2011. Dinniman said it was nothing more than a “shell” lacking any detail or descriptions of the districts. In that version of the bill, each congressional district name is listed with the nondescript placeholder: “is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.”
Dinniman testified that he did not receive any details about the makeup of the congressional districts until the bill was amended on Dec. 14, 2011, the same day it was passed.
“I felt the partisan matter was an inappropriate — whether by Republicans or Democrats — way to do business,” he said.
In the three months between the time the bill was introduced and passed, Dinniman said he remembered inquiring about it with McIlhinney, the majority chairman of the State Government Committee at the time.
According to Dinniman, McIlhinny told him Republican congressmen in the 6th,7th, and 16th districts, “were each at each other trying to get the maximum number of Republican votes in their district.”
Defense attorneys protested this part of Dinniman’s testimony since the court did not hear directly from McIlhinny.
During cross examination, defense attorney Brian Paszamant pointed out that Dinniman voted for the “shell” bill.
He did not, though, vote for the final version of the bill in a sharply divided contest to move it out of committee. Republicans Mike Folmer (Lebanon) and Michael Brubaker (Lancaster) crossed party leadership to vote against the bill. Philadelphia Democrat Christine Tartaglione, who lives in Brady’s congressional district, voted for it.
It squeaked out of committee by a 6-5 tally with the help of Scarnati’s ex-officio vote.
Also, testifying in court on Wednesday were two more plaintiffs, John Gallagher, a Democrat and Ani Diakatos, a Republican, both who reside in the 1st congressional district in Delaware County.
Closing arguments are expected on Thursday. Source
Dec 4, 2017 WHYY Battle over Pa.’s congressional district map begins in federal court in gerrymandering cas
Trial began in federal court on Monday in a legal battle over Pennsylvania’s congressional district map. A group of Pennsylvania voters claim that the map created during the 2011 redistricting process is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The plaintiffs are calling for a new map before the 2018 midterm elections.
In his opening statement before a three-judge panel, attorney Thomas Geoghegan, who represents the voters, argued that the outcomes of Pennsylvania’s congressional district elections are predetermined.
“These maps are weaponized to be voter proof,” said Geoghegan.
He pointed out that in the last three elections, Republicans have maintained 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives regardless of the swings in the number of Republican and Democratic votes recorded.
Geoghegan predicted the same outcome for 2018.
He said the plaintiffs intend to show how the map was created and how gerrymandered district lines affect the political process.
The plaintiffs’ case hinges on the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which they interpret as protecting voters from having the state come between the people and their national government.
House Speaker Michael Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), defendants in the case, argue that voters decide who represents them in congress, not a map.
They say the maps are constitutional and question the standard that the plaintiffs are presenting for what constitutes a partisan gerrymander.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Jason Torchinsky reminded the judges that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that politics plays a role in determining district boundaries.
“Political considerations are part and parcel of the redistricting process,” said Torchinsky.
‘A map like Pennsylvania’
As their first witness, plaintiffs’ attorneys called Daniel McGlone, an analyst with the mapping and data-processing non-profit Azavea.
McGlone testified that the congressional district map shows a clear pattern of using election results and voter registration information based on past election returns and party registration information. He says this was used to pack Democratic voters into as few districts as possible and split voters in communities of interest such as: Harrisburg, Bethlehem, Chester, Erie County, and the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia.
District by district, McGlone was asked to compare changes between the 2011 congressional map with past maps. The use of partisan data, he said, resulted in a map that consistently favors Republicans over Democrats in most districts.
During cross examination, Torchinsky asked the witness what happens when partisan data is used the redistricting process.
“You get a map like Pennsylvania,” McGlone responded, with laughter erupting in the courtroom.
McGlone also testified that partisan data produced by Turzai under court order showed election returns and party registration down to the U.S. Census block level — equivalent to about one city block.
Torchinsky noted several times that although partisan data may have been considered in the 2011 redistricting process, it’s still unclear what exact criteria was used to make the map in question.
Congressional redistricting occurs every 10 years following the U.S. Census. When the current map was drawn, Republicans controlled all three branches of Pennsylvania government. The map, though, did garner significant support from Democrats, especially in areas where lines were drawn seemingly to keep incumbents safe.
Also expected to testify during the trial are Erik Arneson, a former staffer for Delaware County Republican Dominic Pileggi, who was senate majority leader when the map was created, State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D -Chester), State Sen. Daylin Leach (D -Montgomery), and State. Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware), among other witnesses.
The trial is expected to continue through Thursday. A similar case in state court will begin next week. Source
Dec 4, 2017 Inquirer Pa.’s political map rigged for GOP, says lawyer in gerrymandering case
An attorney for the group challenging Pennsylvania’s congressional boundaries told a panel of federal judges Monday he would seek to show that they were unfairly drawn to favor Republicans through the use of sophisticated software and detailed datasets.
Lawyers for Republican state lawmakers countered that statewide election results shed no light on the individual districts, since voters elect members of Congress in their own districts and not statewide, and that politics has always been an accepted part of the redistricting process.
“We’re in a new technical world here,” said Thomas H. Geoghegan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
He spoke during opening statements in the first of two trials this month scrutinizing the fairness of Pennsylvania’s congressional map. A similar challenge starts in state court next week. Both come as courts and communities nationwide have been wrestling with the issue of political gerrymandering, and how it can give one party an outsize influence in government.
Going through the results of several elections, Geoghegan told the panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia that votes across the state have been roughly split between Democrats and Republicans.
But since since the 2011 map went into effect, Republicans have consistently won 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts.
Jason B. Torchinsky, a lawyer for House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, responded in his opening statement that elections are held in districts for individual candidates. He also argued that “political considerations are part and parcel of the redistricting process.”
The voters bringing the suit, led by Louis Agre, a Democratic Ward leader who represents most of Roxborough and Manayunk, are invoking the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which they say gives states the power to run elections and make voting-related decisions, but not to insert partisanship when they do so.
So where other suits, including a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, seek to argue that a map goes too far as a gerrymander, this one seeks to say that any degree of gerrymandering is unlawful.
“We all know the uniqueness of this particular claim,” said one of the judges on the panel, Michael J. Baylson. The judges have thrown out other, more traditional gerrymandering claims that the plaintiffs had hoped to make.
The judges heard from two witnesses Monday: Daniel McGlone, an analyst at Philadelphia-based mapping and geographic data analysis firm Azavea, and Anne Hanna, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech.
McGlone described the results of his analyses of the congressional map and election results, going through districts to show ways that they appeared to favor Republicans. Hanna ran through maps she had created using data, provided by Turzai, that was used during the redistricting process, to similarly show how they appeared to favor Republicans.
If the challenge is successful, it could force a redrawing of Pennsylvania’s map before next year’s midterm elections. In that case, a lawyer for Gov. Wolf and other state officials said, the state would work to accommodate that process, including adjusting primary dates and schedules.
More likely, the defendants would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Michael Li, a gerrymandering expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said in an interview Monday. And its resolution probably would be stayed pending the Supreme Court decision in a gerrymandering challenge brought in Wisconsin.
The lawsuit most likely to affect the Pennsylvania map before 2018, Li said, begins next week, when the state trial begins in League of Women Voters v. Pennsylvania.
One of the biggest obstacles for the plaintiffs in federal court will be that their case could invalidate many maps, Li said. Even maps drawn with politically neutral principles could happen to favor one party or another, even without intent.
“There’s not really a question to whether Pennsylvania has a good map or a bad map. It clearly has a bad map,” Li said. “The question is whether the legal theory opens the door to too many lawsuits.” Source
Nov 7, 2017 DLN Lawsuit challenging GOP’s Pennsylvania electoral maps to move forward
PHILADELPHIA >> A panel of judges has denied a motion to quash a federal lawsuit charging that Pennsylvania’s congressional maps give Republicans an unfair electoral advantage.
The judges issued the ruling Tuesday after lawyers for the state’s Republican leaders asked them to dismiss the case brought by five Pennsylvania voters against the governor and elections officials.
Attorneys for House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the legislative districts are lawful. But lawyers for the voters argue they were illegally drawn to favor one party over another.
Republicans won 13 of 18 congressional seats in the 2014 and 2016 elections despite earning a little over 50 percent of the vote.
The lawsuit also seeks to redraw lines before the 2018 midterm election. It’s scheduled for trial in December. Read more
Oct 4, 2017 slate.com Partisan Gerrymandering Got the Sotomayor Treatment The justice has a knack for crafting simple, devastating questions. She was at her best in Gill v. Whitford.
Throughout Tuesday’s oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the Supreme Court’s left-leaning justices grilled Wisconsin’s attorneys with tough questions that suggest a majority of the court is prepared to impose constitutional limits on political redistricting. The highlight of the hour came when Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed a very simple inquiry that cut to the core of the case: “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”
August 23, 2017 Chester County PRESS New Garden says ‘No’ to gerrymandering
The New Garden Township Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 at their Aug. 21 meeting to pass the township’s Resolution No. 2017, which lends the township’s support to impartial, fair and transparent redistricting reform, and calls for and end to gerrymandering across Pennsylvania, which has resulted in congressional redistricting of districts to favor one political party.
Those voting in favor the resolution were board chairman Pat Little, and supervisors Stephen Allaband, Randy Geouque and Mike Loftus. Supervisor Richard Ayotte was not present at the meeting.
By signing the resolution, New Garden tosses its support to legislative efforts to secure expeditious action to make a constitutional amendment that would, among other reforms, assign the decennial task of both legislative and congressional redistricting to an independent citizens redistricting commission.
The resolution says, in part, that the township encourages “all those elected officials in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who represent the citizens of the Township of New Garden to publicly announce their support of and commitment to work towards passage of such legislative efforts.”
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf, Lieutenant, Gov. Mike Stack, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, Sen. Andrew Dinniman, Pennsylvania Rep. Eric Roe, and Chester County Commissioners Kathi Cozzone, Terence Farrell and Michelle Kichline. Read more
June 15, 2017 Fox 43 League of Women Voters sues to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A group of voters is challenging the way congressional voting districts are drawn along party lines in Pennsylvania.
Their challenge begins with a lawsuit that includes the governor and general assembly.
While gerrymandered districts may be drawn along party lines, a group of voters is suing with the hope of erasing the decision making power of one party over another.
A group of Pennsylvania voters, lead by the League of Women Voters, wants to stop whichever political party is in charge from drawing an unfair advantage. Read more
U.S. politics is an industry—a duopoly that’s about as anticompetitive as you’re likely to find these days. The result, as a prominent 2014 study by Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page shows, is that the preferences of the average voter have a near-zero impact on public policy.
It wasn’t always that way. America’s political system was long the envy of the world. The system advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations. Today, however, it serves as only a barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address.
The authors of the Fortune article, Katherine Gehl, former president and CEO of Gehl Food, and Michael Porter, founder of Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, have been tracking US competitiveness for years.
They’ve concluded that the public interest is held captive by “the political-industrial complex”, which includes both major parties and the “interconnected set of entities that participate in and support the industry: special interests, lobbyists, pollsters, consultants, partisan think tanks, super PACs, and, yes, the media too.”
Gerrymandering is part of that unresponsive duopoly. “It reduces competitive seats, leads to extreme candidates, and minimizes accountability of elected officials.”
We are gathering stories and compiling research to show this reality in Pennsylvania.
That resolve is strengthened by the recent study, Extreme Maps, released this month by the Brennan Center for Justice.
That study applied three current measures of gerrymandering to Congressional districts. By two of the three measures, Pennsylvania is the most gerrymandered state in the country. By the third, PA is a close second or third, depending on the year.
We believe the cynical manipulation of district maps harms us all, whatever our political affiliation.
And we believe an educated public is our best defense.
Fair Districts PA has held over 200 community meetings since the start of the year and has reached over 10,000 citizens.
We continue to grow quickly, with over 10,000 names on our email list and over 15,000 followers on Facebook.
We are days away from launching a new website constructed by an amazing team of very dedicated volunteers.
We are working hard to have local groups in place in every county.
And we continue to schedule speakers in venues across the state.
If you’ve volunteered and not heard back, please contact us again with as much detail as possible. We’re putting together research and business outreach teams, strengthening our communications and admin teams and recruiting additional leadership for our regional and local group structures. (Here’s our Volunteer link).
If you have stories of how your own municipality, business or industry have been harmed by an unresponsive legislature, please share them. Email me with details or to arrange a follow-up call with someone from our research team.
We are determined to see real reform in Pennsylvania’s redistricting process. Only a groundswell of informed, engaged, attentive citizens working together can make this happen.
We’ll be discussing all of this on our conference call Thursday, June 1, at 7 PM. Call in number: 641-715-3580. Access code: 594190. As I said in my last email, we’re shifting to a once-a-month call for the summer, so the next call after Thursday will be July 6.
Thanks for all your efforts and support.
Fair Districts PA
April 19, 2017
Yesterday in Harrisburg, Representatives Steve Samuelson (Democrat, Northampton County) and Eric Roe (Republican, Chester County) shared the co-sponsor memo for House Bill 722, a joint resolution to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to establish an independent citizens commission to redistrict State Senate, State House and Congressional districts.
As the memo makes clear:
the Independent Redistricting Commission tasked to draw boundary lines will not be beholden to incumbent politicians or political parties. Our proposal ensures that State Legislative and Congressional districts are drawn in a fair and impartial manner. This legislation was developed in conjunction with Fair Districts PA, which is a statewide coalition that includes the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the Committee of Seventy, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and more than 20 other organizations.
Some legislators have asked why Fair Districts PA so strongly supports SB 22 and HB 722. Here’s the answer: five Fair Districts PA representatives were part of an extensive redraft process that took place last fall, after the November election. With past redistricting reform sponsors and legislative policy staff, we met for several long sessions in Senator Boscola’s office, sharing feedback from previously supported bills. We discussed lessons learned by successful reform colleagues in other states, reviewed language in the PA Constitution and considered ways to safeguard a truly independent process.
There is no way to take politics out of our electoral processes, but we believe HB 722 and SB 22 would remove partisan manipulation and personal motivation. There was much discussion about the length of the bill relative to most constitutional amendments, but general agreement that the language needed to be specific enough to provide strong safeguards. We believe that was accomplished, but also know that a piece of enabling legislation will be needed to spell out in greater detail specific administrative processes, including credentials required for commission applicants and description of a computer-generated algorithm for randomized selection of commissioners.
Representative Samuelson was part of those conversations. Representative Roe did his own work of reviewing provisions and asking for background on aspects of the bill before agreeing to be a primary sponsor. By the end of the day yesterday, the bill already had a dozen cosponsors from both major parties: Steve Samuelson, Eric Roe, Tim Briggs, Vanessa Brown, PamDeLissio, Pat Harkins, Patty Kim, Steve Kinsey, Adam Ravenstahl, Mike Driscoll, Bob Freeman and Tom Murt.
If your representative is one of those, please send a quick “Thank You!” email.
If not, our goal is to invite as many representatives as possible to sign on before the bill is officially introduced next Wednesday, April 26. Please call or email your representative with the reminder that HB 722 is now available for cosponsorship and a polite request to sign on now, before it’s introduced. (You can find your legislator and contact information here.
We continue plans for a press conference and rally day in Harrisburg on May 9. Legislative visits are being arranged by local coordinators. Anyone who has shared address or district info has or will be contacted. If you want to be part of that effort and haven’t yet shared your address, you’ll need to access our Volunteer Form so we can match you with outreach to your own legislators. Our goal for this event is to meet with legislators or their staff. We plan a larger, “everyone come!” event for sometime next fall.
We’ll talk more about bills, lobby day and next steps toward reform on our regularly scheduled conference call, tomorrow (April 20) at 7 PM. Call in number: 641-715-3580. Access code: 594190.
Yesterday in a meeting to discuss SB 22, one of our state senators opened a well-worn copy of our state constitution and read this;
All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper. (Article 1, Section 2)
Join us as we work to exercise that right to reform and alter, so that our government works once again on behalf of ALL the people, not just the few in power.
Fair Districts PA
April 18, 2017 69NEWS
Pennsylvania anti-gerrymandering bill gaining traction
April 9, 2017 Does Gerrymandering cause polarization?
Watch this video from the Smerconish CNN
What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering — the partisan manipulation of electoral districts for political gain
Pennsylvania is one of the most gerrymandered states in the union. Behind closed doors, despite the conflict of interest, lawmakers draw the borders of their own voting districts. Politicians are picking theirvoters, not the other way around. Many districts are no longer competitive. A growing number of candidates run unopposed. Voters feel their votes don’t count, and the gridlock in Harrisburg gets worse.
The redistricting process should be transparent, impartial and fair
There is a solution. Put the redistricting power in the hands of the people. An independent citizens commission will make drawing voting districts transparent, impartial and fair.
Timeline for Redistricting
April 1, 2020 Census Day
Dec 31, 2020 Census count to President
Jan. 10, 2021 Apportionment to US House
April 1, 2021 Redistricting data to states
End of 2021 or early 2022 Most redistricting complete
This information is from Fair Districts PA Visit their website to learn much more.
Note from ChescoWatch:
Grab a cup of coffee, glass of wine – the beverage of your choice and watch their 45 minute video that explains Gerrymandering.
This is the single most important issue in our future that can make a difference! We must get involved in this now and actively work to change our current system. It’s not about party, it’s about our electoral system and it’s broken. Join Fair Districts PA here.
History of Gerrymandering
(Work your way up from the bottom)
March 15, 2017 Times-Herald
Group seeks support to tackle Pa. gerrymandering
POTTSTOWN >> In an effort to combat what it calls “voter suppression” and change what it claims is a rigged election system, one group was out in Pottstown recently looking to generate support.
Warren Cohn, a volunteer with the nonpartisan group Fair Districts PA, gave a presentation Sunday to a crowd of about 30 people at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church aimed at ending the process of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. The group is trying to energize support for a proposed state constitutional amendment to reapportion and redistrict the commonwealth through an independent commission ahead of the 2020 United States census. Read more
February 27, 2017 Politicspa.com
Democrats Hold the Cards for State-Level Redistricting
2021 could be Pennsylvania’s most momentous redraw in a generation. GOP majorities are at historic highs, but a proposal to shrink the legislature could shake up the map. Democrats hold the trump card, but Republicans have the power to change the rules.
PoliticsPA spoke with more than two dozen sources with knowledge of the upcoming reapportionment fight including lawmakers, consultants, reformers and more. Some were granted anonymity.—
Pennsylvania’s next state-level redistricting is four years away, but the hands have already been dealt. A durable majority on the Pa. Supreme Court gives Democrats the trump card: the tie-breaking vote on the panel that draws state House and Senate maps.
For the first time since 1990 Democrats will have the advantage during the redraw, which for state House and Senate districts is called reapportionment instead of redistricting. Read more
June 29, 2015
Supreme Court’s ruling on gerrymandering is a victory for voters
THE SUPREME Court has mostly avoided questions about gerrymandering, the practice of drawing otherwise irrational legislative district lines to the advantage of one party or of incumbents. But on Monday, in an unexpected victory for the democratic process, the court said the Constitution allows people to fight back against gerrymandering, with the strongest of tools.
The court’s legal analysis in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was something of a reach. But the ruling’s practical implications are unequivocally positive. Gerrymandering deprives voters of genuine choice and encourages extreme partisanship, since many incumbents have to worry more about challenges from their flanks than from the other party. Now that the justices have given their approval, voters and courageous state leaders should work to limit or eliminate politicians’ ability to fix voting maps to their advantage. Read more
New York Times Sunday Review/ Opinion Pages Feb. 2, 2013
The Great Gerrymander of 2012
HAVING the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II. Read more
December 14, 2011 Real Clear Politics
In Pennsylvania, the Gerrymander of the Decade?
There have been a lot of good candidates for the “gerrymander of the decade” award