PA Population Data Certified for Legislative Redistricting

Member Group : Center Square

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission certified U.S. Census Bureau population data this week as it stares down a Jan. 12 deadline for a draft map.

“We do feel as if we are under a lot of time pressure because of the late delivery of the census data and the impending arrival of deadlines relating to the 2022 primary elections,” Chair Mark Nordenberg said. “So we are going to be moving as quickly as we can to the point of developing our preliminary plan.”

The five member commission includes Nordenberg and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses: Reps. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, and Sens. Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, and Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh. Together, the panel will determine boundaries for 203 state House districts and 50 Senate districts.

McClinton offered the policy as an answer to “prison gerrymandering,” which often disproportionately affects people of color, and makes more sense because inmates don’t participate or contribute to the communities in which they are incarcerated, she said.

An analysis from the Vera Institute of Justice concluded up to 47% of inmates at state prisons in 2017 were Black, despite representing only 11% of the total population.

About 1 in 4 incarcerated individuals reside in a Philadelphia County facility, according to The Associated Press. An additional 6.5% are housed in Allegheny County, with the rest scattered across 21 other counties.

Ward and Benninghoff, however, said the policy shift would further constrain the time allowed to draw new districts and said it treats residents housed in group quarters, such as college students, unequally.

It was these same objections, Benninghoff said, that encouraged him to vote against certifying the population data Monday.

Benninghoff said he was hopeful the commission would be finding more common ground from now on, though he described the process so far as “frustrating in its lack of focus on constitutional standards and the difficult timing decisions now ahead of us.”

Federal and county prisoners remain unaffected by the policy change, as do inmates who lived out of state at the time of their arrest. Congressional redistricting also will not be affected.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.