Redistricting is at the center of discussion here in Harrisburg, but what exactly is it? What is the difference between Congressional and PA Legislative maps? Why is it happening? Who does it affect? And why do we do this?
Written into the Constitution, the United States is required to conduct a census to track growing or depleting populations in every state every ten years. One reason this is done is to re-draw congressional districts to have all areas best represented in government due to population changes. The same occurs at the state level to ensure equal representation as the population throughout the commonwealth shifts.
Congressional Maps: Since the House of Representatives must equal 435 seats, certain states may gain seats or lose seats in the House based on the census. The U.S. Senate is never altered as that chamber will always have two Senators from each state, elected at large.
PA House/Senate Maps: Likewise, the 50 Pennsylvania State Senate seats and the 203 State House seats will also be altered to reflect population changes within the commonwealth. The chambers do not gain or lose seats, but the boundaries of those districts will be altered according to population data from the US Census.
How does the redistricting process work?
Congressional Maps: First, the United States must conduct a census every ten years and record the population of citizens in each state. It is then determined by the Census Bureau whether certain states gain, lose or keep their number of seats in the House of Representatives. Once the number of seats is determined, it is up to the state legislatures to formulate new maps, carving out the new districts for their states. This map must be completed before any election. The state legislature votes on the congressional maps and they must be signed into law by the Governor. Congressional maps are used to determine Pennsylvania’s representation in the federal government. After the latest census, Pennsylvania has 17 House seats and two senate seats.
PA House/Senate Maps: However, in the case of Pennsylvania state legislative maps, there is a commission that creates the new maps, and it does not need the approval of the Governor to become law. The body is called the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and they are comprised of the party leaders from the House and Senate with a Supreme Court appointed chairman. They reapportion the House and Senate seats based off the United States census data. The number of seats does not change, but the lines making districts can. Thus, crafting the state legislative maps can become very political. As stated above, there are 203 House seats, which means the house districts are smaller, and there are 50 Senate seats. Both chambers are based on district population.
Where are we now in the process?
Congressional Maps: Currently the General Assembly and Governor Wolf are in a stalemate as the Governor refuses to accept a map that has gone through the legislative process. Rep. Seth Grove says that, “we (General Assembly) were trying to engage with the Governor on the maps, it is a negotiation back and forth, but he obviously had a weird tact of ‘you write me legislation and I will give it a thumbs up or down.’ It is almost like we are back in the times of Rome with Caesar.” As of now, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has taken control of the Congressional redistricting. They have appointed a member of the Commonwealth Court, Judge Patricia McCullough, to offer her opinion and she chose the map that many Republicans’ favor and that has passed in the General Assembly. The hearings on the map for the high court begin February 18th.
In 2017, a challenge was fought and won in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court based on gerrymandering in the congressional maps. This, even though, the maps were passed by the General Assembly, signed by then Governor Tom Corbett, and approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2011. In a seemingly political stunt, after the makeup of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took strong Democratic Party control in 2016, the once approved congressional maps were deemed unconstitutional and then redrawn by the courts. The Pennsylvania constitution is clear that it is the role of the legislature to draw and approve the maps, leaving many to believe that the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were extra-constitutional. Nonetheless, this unprecedented decision was made, and will surely impact the current process as it appears to be heading that way again; as there is another gridlock between the legislature and the Governor. With all these lawsuits possibly being put onto the docket, it then raises the question of when the candidates can start petitioning to be on the ballot and if the primary will still be held May 14th. Only time will tell and we will update you on this process as it moves forward.
PA House/Senate Maps: After 30 days of hearing public debate on the maps, the independent commission voted 4-1 to approve the state legislative maps this past Friday, February 4th. The chair of the committee, who was appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Mark Nordenberg, the Senate Majority Leader, Kim Ward (R – Westmoreland) and the two leaders of the Democratic Party in the House and Senate, Joanna McClinton (D – Philadelphia) and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) respectively, joined together to vote on this. Jay Costa called this map “truly a product for the public and by the public. Joanna McClinton said “it was a fair, constitutionally sound map. Even though Kim Ward voted for it, she still had her reservations saying that it was “imperfect” but, “was confident that the map was constitutional.” The lone dissenter, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R – Centre), slammed the commission’s decision on the maps calling it a “gerrymandered design to help Democrats and will not improve minority representation.” Benninghoff has since proposed changes in the map that would create competitiveness in the districts of Philadelphia and Bucks County and reverse plans to split up areas such as Allentown, Reading, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. The decision comes 11 days before candidates can start circulating petitions to be on the ballot in these newly drawn districts. Therefore, the lawsuits will be coming fast and furiously.
Who is affected by the new maps?
Congressional Maps: As of today, there is still no clear map as to how Pennsylvania will be represented in Congress. However, the maps that Governor Wolf created and the maps that the GOP-led General Assembly have created are being taken to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After three days of hearings in the Supreme Court, the judge nominated from the Commonwealth Court has recommended the map that has passed in the General Assembly. After looking at the map that was recommended, it is clear to see that since there was a seat lost from the census, that the boundaries look very different.
PA House/Senate Maps: The change in the maps affects everyone as lines are redrawn, but certain districts feel the shifts greater than others, or are completely erased. In the new PA House and Senate Maps, they were redrawn to have 103 Democrat seats and then 100 Republican seats in the House. Meanwhile, in the Senate, there are 28 seats that are deemed competitive depending on what data you use to interpret the new maps.
The PA Legislative maps will be altered dramatically and there will be several incumbents in both chambers that will find themselves in the same districts. One notable example is in the new 14th Senate District where incumbents Sen. Lisa Baker (R) and Sen. John Yudichak (I) share lines. New districts will be formed, such as the new 34th district in Cumberland, Perry, and Northern Dauphin County. This then creates a Harrisburg-city based 15th Senatorial seat, currently held by Sen. John DiSanto (R).
In the House, the changes are many. Population surges in the Lehigh Valley and Cumberland Valley carve several new districts and reshape many of the areas surrounding them. For example, though Harrisburg proper hasn’t seen population growth in decades, there will now be three seats that split the city, creating opportunities for heavily democratic districts. But the areas to the west of Harrisburg in the Cumberland Valley have seen population growth and will see an additional district to reflect this shift. Additionally, districts in the Lehigh Valley seem to be denser, while splitting major metropolitan areas in Allentown and Bethlehem to favor democratic districts.