Proposed reshuffle of state congressional map draws criticism | News, Sports, Jobs


Editor’s Note: Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive / The Patriot-News, TribLIVE / Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

This article is part of a yearlong reporting project focusing on redistribution and gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. It is made possible through the support of members of Spotlight PA and Votebeat, a project focused on election integrity and voting access.

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s long-awaited redistribution process shifted into high gear on Wednesday as House Republicans released proposed new congressional districts, but the immediate reaction to the initial map was decidedly mixed.

The map was chosen from 19 citizen submissions and was drawn by former Lehigh County Republican Commissioner Amanda Holt. Holt became a well-known redistribution activist a decade ago and was a plaintiff in a successful case against the state’s previous House and Senate cards.

Due to low population growth, Pennsylvania’s next congressional map will have 17 districts, compared to 18 that are represented equally by Democrats and Republicans.

The new map emphasizes the equality of the population between the districts, which in turn makes them less compact. For example, the proposed District 6 encompasses parts of West Chester State to Lebanon County.

In previous testimony before the House State Government Committee, Holt recommended that lawmakers adopt “equality

population” – with “as close to zero as possible while consistently meeting state goals ”- as a core priority. Federal standards dictate that districts must contain an equal number of people, although a variation of up to 1% is considered acceptable.

While the map does not divide polling stations, the way it divides certain areas of the state – including the city of Philadelphia and the greater Harrisburg area – has already received backlash. Hershey, Harrisburg, and Mechanicsburg – all considered part of the same general region of central Pennsylvania – are each in different districts.

“There are some areas that are really very troubling that would quickly make it to the ugliest and ugliest neighborhoods list. “ said Carol Kuniholm of Fair Districts PA, a grassroots group that has long advocated for more transparency in the redistribution process.

Adam Podowitz-Thomas, senior legal strategist for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, said the map seemed fairly competitive on first glance, with seven Republican-leaning, 5 Democratic-leaning and 5 districts that will be competitive.

Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), chairman of the House State Government Committee, praised Holt’s choice of card in response to public pressure to remove lawmakers from the reshuffle process.

“Over the past few months, defenders and ordinary Pennsylvanians have told us they don’t want the process of years gone by,” Grove said in a statement. “The people of Pennsylvania have called for increased public participation, a map drawn by people, not politicians, and the ability to comment on a draft plan before a final vote is taken. “

Grove said his panel will hold an information hearing on Thursday and is expected to vote on Monday. A map must be approved by both the GOP-controlled House and Senate before being submitted to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for review, and the Senate plans to release its own proposal. This means that this first card is unlikely to reflect what will be the end result.

Supporters of the redistribution reform said they were grateful the map was finally released, but frustrated with the time it took and the lack of communication throughout the process. Fair Districts PA and the good governance organization Committee of Seventy – which runs the Draw the Lines competition – released their own maps over a month ago.

“[They could] use the audiences they have already held, but put cards in front of people and give them the opportunity to throw the tires on the cards ”, said David Thornburgh, Chairman of the Committee of Seventy. “It’s a missed opportunity because now the time is running out. “

A spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Center) said “Using a map submitted by citizens as a starting point is a logical extension” from “transparent” process that House Republicans have conducted so far.

Any changes made in the future will reflect information derived from a public meeting with Holt scheduled for Thursday, earlier hearings held statewide and ongoing comments, spokesman Jason Gottesman continued.

Rep. Scott Conklin, the leading Democrat on the House State Government committee, told Spotlight PA he had no influence on the selection of the card.

“I just saw the map” he said on Wednesday afternoon. “We actually asked if we could have a witness at a Zoom meeting tomorrow and we were turned down.”

“I had high hopes and cannot express my disappointment that this was not done in a bipartisan way”, Conklin added.

The Senate, meanwhile, should consider its own map.

Republican David Argall and Democrat Sharif Street – who head the state government’s Senate committee – plan to release a common map next week and hold a vote in January, a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats said.

During the redistribution cycle ten years ago, Republicans controlled both executive and legislative powers.

In 2011, legislative Republicans first unveiled the Congress card in public in December of that year. Governor Tom Corbett signed the plan less than 10 days later.

This map was rejected several years later by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that it was designed to give Republicans an unfair advantage.

This time around, GOP lawmakers must seek consensus with Wolf, a Democrat, if they are to avoid the High Court.

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