Redistricting is the process by which we use census data to redraw Pennsylvania’s state legislative boundaries to reflect shifts in population every ten years. Redistricting is mandated by federal law, and the method we use is taken from our state’s constitution (Article II, Section 17).
Legislative redistricting should be free of political influence, and should not give an advantage to one party over another. However, through the process known as gerrymandering, redistricting is used in Pennsylvania to protect incumbent legislators and create permanent party majorities.
In PA’s latest round of state redistricting, the original plan created using 2010 census data was so badly gerrymandered that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional , and a new plan was created. That plan was also challenged, but the Supreme Court unanimously approved it on May 8, 2013. Despite the Supreme Court’s approval, the new redistricting plan is still gerrymandered and largely unsatisfactory. (To view the approved plan, please click here.)
On the Federal level, Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are redrawn every ten years through a bill that must pass through both chambers and be signed into law by the governor.
On Monday, January 22 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that the 2011 redistricting of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats violated the state constitution. Pennsylvania has 18 congressional districts; 13 of them are held by Republicans and just 5 are held by Democrats. The Court decided that the maps that yielded that representation were too motivated by political party and gerrymandered to protect Republican control.
In their decision, the court mandated that new maps be in place before the 2018 midterm elections. They gave the General Assembly until February 9 to come up with a new map and pass it through both chambers. Then, Governor Tom Wolf has until February 15 to submit the plan to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rejects that plan, or the legislature fails to pass one, the court will appoint someone to draw or choose a map.
On February 9, the Republican presiding officers of the House and Senate have shared a congressional redistricting map with the governors office. This map was not the product of bipartisan work, nor is it a piece of legislation that passed through both chambers. On February 13, Governor Wolf’s rejected the maps. He told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that he will not accept the proposed map Republican legislative leaders submitted because it, too, is a partisan gerrymander that does not comply with the court’s order or Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
On February 15, Pa Democrats submitted their plan. Senator Costa said, “Senate Democrats submitted an excellent congressional redistricting plan to the court today. It meets the key elements of constitutionality identified by the court. The plan includes far less municipal splits than the Republican submission or the 2011 plan, adheres to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and eliminates voter confusion by not moving any incumbent member of Congress who is seeking re-election this year or anyone who is involved in a special election.”
On February 19, 2018, the PA Supreme Court imposed a new congressional map for the 2018 elections. Under the court’s redrawn map, districts more closely align with county lines, and only 13 counties are split among two or three districts. Following the Supreme Courts new map, Pennsylvania republicans challenge this map as well. On March 19, The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a Republican challenge to the newly drawn Pennsylvania congressional map ahead of the 2018 elections.
Know Your Legislation
On May 15th, Pennsylvania will be having their first primary election using the new congressional maps. It is exciting to see Pennsylvania on the forefront of combating gerrymandering, but there are still more lingering campaign issues.
One massive issue is the amount of cash involved in campaigns. For example, the 2014 PA Governor’s race cost a record breaking $82 million. Expensive campaigns, like the governor’s race, degrade our democracy by limiting the amount of people able to run for office, providing an unfair advantage for wealthy candidates and increasing the influence of special interest groups and wealthy donors. I believe that individuals should be elected based on their ideas, not on their fundraising abilities.
To solve this issue, I introduced SB290, which creates a public financing option for state political campaigns. SB290 creates the Clean Elections Fund to provide participating candidates with public money to finance their elections. Any candidate running for Governor, Senator, Representative, Auditor General, Attorney General or State Treasurer will be eligible to receive public funding. To qualify for the money a candidate must collect a prescribed number of contributions of $5 from registered voters within their electoral district.
After each certified candidate receives public financing, no other money may be sought, collected or spent by the candidate.
The death of democracy: Daylin Leach at TEDxPhoenixville
- During the 2012 Congressional elections, Democratic candidates across the country received 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans held 33 more seats in Congress than Democrats.
- During Pennsylvania’s Congressional elections, Democratic candidates received 75,870 more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans won eight more seats than Democrats (13 Republicans, 5 Democrats).
- The United States continues to grow more diverse, but Republican Congressional districts do not reflect this trend.
- Gerrymandering is a clear violation of the most basic tenet of democracy: “Majority Rules.”
- Before the first vote is cast we already know who will win each election.
- General elections no longer matter – most elections are decided in the Primary.
- Politicians who know they will easily win the next general election have an incentive to shun compromise and to support policies favored only by the extreme wing of their party: Safe seats mean polarized politics.
- Gerrymandering is a form of voter disenfranchisement.
- If you have to rig elections to win, #YourIdeasSuck.
Last updated: May 8, 2018 at 15:01 pm