Redistricting in Pennsylvania
|Process:||Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission|
|Deadline:||30 days after plan in finalized|
|Total Seats to be Drawn|
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- 1 Process
- 2 Leadership
- 3 Census results
- 4 Congressional maps
- 5 Legislative maps
- 6 Citizen activism
- 7 Reform legislation
- 8 Legal Issues
- 9 Timeline
- 10 History
- 11 Constitutional explanation
- 12 See also
- 13 External links
- 14 References
This page is about redistricting in Pennsylvania. Due to sluggish 3.5% growth, a third of the national average, Pennsylvania lost a seat in the US House following the 2010 census. Ten years ago, the GOP controlled the redistricting process and arguably spread itself too thin in trying to draw safe seats. After taking losses in the middle of the decade, the GOP again had an opportunity to strengthen its position.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Pennsylvania was one of the top 10 states to watch in the redistricting process. The reporters ranked Pennsylvania number eight on the list. Florida was chosen as the number one state to watch.
Pennsylvania employs two distinct processes for legislative and Congressional redistricting. With respect to Congressional redistricting, the Pennsylvania General Assembly bears primary responsibility, proposing and passing the redistricting plan as ordinary legislation. As such, the Governor of Pennsylvania has the power to veto the plan.
For legislative redistricting, a joint redistricting committee is responsible for creating new maps. The Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission is responsible for legislative redistricting. The redistricting commission is comprised of the following five members:
- Majority Leader of the House, or an appointed deputy
- Minority Leader of the House, or an appointed deputy
- Majority Leader of the Senate, or an appointed deputy
- Minority Leader of the Senate, or an appointed deputy
These four members select the fifth member, who serves as Chair of the Commission. If the four members are unable to agree on the fifth, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court selects the final member. The Commission need not be formed until May of the redistricting year and has until October to submit a plan. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) said that he expected the General Assembly to have a Congressional draft reading in September or October 2011.
As February 2011 wound down, House Speaker Sam Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati announced their nominees to the redistricting commission, a quartet of lawmakers who had already been anticipated to make the cut.
- Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, (R)
- House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, (R)
- Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, (D)
- House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, (D)
One the same day, the legislature announced they had received approximately two dozen applications to serve as the citizen chair of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission; hearings were announced for sometime in mid-March where selected candidates would be publicly interviewed.
Yet, by early April, the selection process had broken down. Despite debating the matter until the evening, the April 4, 2011 deadline passed without a citizen chair chosen. Senator Pileggi served as the temporary chair while the Commission interviewed 15 applicants, none of whom secured majority support.
With the Commission unable to make a selection, as happened in 2001 and 1991, the state's Supreme Court took over, with a May 4 deadline to make its choice.
The Supreme Court made a decision well ahead of the deadline. On April 18, 2011, they announced the choice of former state Superior Court President Judge Stephen McEwen to chair the commission. McEwen was suspended from his seat on Pennsylvania's Superior Court for the duration of his involvement with redistricting. The offices of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee applauded the decision and promised to begin public hearings quickly. The public buy-in from Democrats was, in particular, important as the Supreme Court's 4-3 GOP edge caused concerns that the tie-breaking vote on the committee would be a partisan appointee.
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission sat for its first internal organizational meeting on May 11, 2011, where they set internal guidelines. After reviewing and verifying Census data on August 17, they had 90 days to introduce a preliminary plan.
In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the House and Senate State Government Committees are responsible for drafting new Congressional maps. Hearings on the new plans would take place in the fall. Final approval was expected by the end of the year. Committee membership was as follows:
Transparency and fairness promised
Legislative leaders promised voters would be able to keep a close eye on the redistricting process in 2011. Because of technological advancements and the reform movement in Harrisburg, there might have been more transparency in 2011's process.
State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi was the first to make a public call for a transparent redistricting process. After meeting with the leaders from several citizens' groups in January 2011, Pileggi said he wanted to "make the redistricting process as transparent as possible," said Erik Arneson, the senator's spokesperson.
Pileggi wanted to set up a public website allowing voters to follow all aspects of the redistricting process, including proposed maps. He also had plans to hold at least five public hearings in different locations around the state to allow residents to contribute to the process and comment on proposals.
The spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said the senator supported Pileggi's efforts to open the process and seek greater participation from voters.
"It is lengthy and painstaking, and [Costa] agrees that transparency has to be the over-riding principle which guides the process," said Scullin.
The House and Senate State Government Committees scheduled several meetings across the state on Congressional redistricting. The schedule can be found here.
Slow growth in the 00's cost Pennsylvania a Congressional District, yet again. It completed an eight-decade cycle that saw the Keystone State's Congressional delegation, which numbered 36 in 1930, cut in half. The state's remaining 18 seats were each set to have around 660,000 residents each after redistricting work concluded, putting them below the overall national average.
Combined with anemic growth, Republicans took the governorship, the state House, and the state Senate in 2010, giving them a trifecta of redistricting power. However, Pennsylvania still had almost one million more registered Democrats than Republicans. As state law requires each chamber plus the Governor to approve a final redistricting plan, such GOP dominance could have sped up the process, and could also have irked Democrats. The geographic allegiances of legislative leadership was also set to influence districts, with much of the GOP's top lawmakers hailing from Western Pennsylvania.
Such a confluence was still not adequate to assume the resulting political boundaries would be Democrat-proof GOP strongholds. In 2001, a Republican legislator notoriously said redistricting results would guarantee his party was going to enjoy control of the General Assembly for a decade. He was off by six years, as Dems took the House just a few years later.
One early bet on an at-risk seat as lawmakers decided where to cut was the 12th District held by Democrat Mark Critz in the 112th Congress. Based around Johnston, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, Critz's seat indeed looked to be vulnerable, especially in light of state demographic trends that showed the region to be losing population within a state that was itself shrinking. Also on the edge were Critz's colleagues, Jason Altmire and Tim Murphy. Various imagined scenarios also imagined the three fighting each other for two seats.
Another area to watch from the beginning was Philadelphia, with three Democratically held seats in its urban core and surrounded by a ring of suburban Districts that spent the last decade slowly trending leftward.
Non-Partisan Redistricting Algorithm of Pennsylvania
The need to consolidate two seats somewhere in the state led to numerous possible maps, while the de facto Republican control of the process made some of those more likely than others.
The GOP already held the fastest growing seats in the state; Jim Gerlach's 6th, Joseph Pitts in the 16th, and Todd Platt's 19th.
Still, as Republicans had to do something with the wreckage of whatever Democratic seat got cut, it was possible some blue seats would get even more secure for Dems. One thing that was fairly certain was that Bob Brady, Congressman and County Chair, would see his Philadelphia seat largely left as it was.
- Two powerful and well-funded Democrats in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, Chaka Fattah, whose 2nd District included the black population at the city's core, and Allyson Schwartz, from the suburban white collar 13th District, could have been cast into a single district. The near impossibility that one of the two would bow out meant a vicious primary in 2012 if this scenario came to pass.
- Alternately, Fattah and Schwartz could have lost their small Republican pockets to surrounding swing seats and effectively became a dumping ground for more Democrats, giving some other districts a greater chance of going red.
- Republicans Jim Gerlach (CD 6) and Pat Meehan (CD 7), each looking to shore up a Philadelphia seat, could have pushed to pick up territory further west, breaking up and absorbing one of the outlying seats.
- Jason Altmire was seen by the GOP as Pennsylvania's weakest Democrat, and his seat could have been dismantled. However, the way in which his left-leaning constituents would be parceled out was delicate. Less than secure Republicans didn't want to inherit Democratic voters, so if Altmire's 4th District did get the axe, its remnants would likely be moved into the Democratic seats of Mark Critz (CD 12) and Michael F. Doyle (CD 14). With respective losses of 5.2% and 9.5%, those two seats were the state's hardest hit in the 00s.
By late March 2011, details were emerging of an agreed-upon Republican plan. Tom Holden's Schuylkill County district, the 17th, could have stretched north to Scranton, a heavily Democratic city, aiding Republican Lou Barletta, whose seat contained Scranton. At the same time,the 10th, represented by Tom Marino, would have moved west into more GOP-friendly territory. Early sentiment from party insiders was that, while Holden's seat needed to gain territory, Schuykill would stay, as it was, entirely within one district.
While Holden might have needed to gain territory, putting Scranton and Harrisburg in one seat would have meant a 100 mile tendril bridging the two cities. Pennsylvania's gerrymandered seats in the past meant 2011 brought them a national audience, making such a map risky. Political scientist Terry Madonna described it succintly; "we'll trade a dragon for a snake." Still, the 10th and 11th seats both stood to become GOP bulwarks if they both tossed their Democratic pockets into the 17th.
The most direct pain of the lost seat would come down to a scenario predicted for months. By dissolving Mark Critz's seat and attaching much of it to Jason Altmire's Johnston area seat, and, in turn, pushing some of Altmire's Democratic base into Mike Doyle Pittsburgh seat, the GOP would force Critz into a primary with Altmire if he wanted to remain in Congress. On top of surviving the primary, Altmire would need to face his 2010 GOP opponent, Edgeworth attorney Keith Rothfus, who filed with the FEC to seek the seat again in 2012.
If Bill Schuster could have been convinced to take a district with more Democrats in it, the seat created by merging Critz and Altmire could indeed have been a relatively safe bet for the GOP, although Schuster was predictably cool to the idea. As the process went on, Schuster, a senior member for the GOP's Pennsylvania Congressional delegation, appeared to emerge as a redistricting leader.
Among the seats that could have become more pronouncedly Democratic would be the 15th, in the Lehigh valley, where Charlie Dent looked to absorb enough Dems to be concerned about his re-election chances. The two cities in the 15th, Allentown and Bethlehem, trended to the left with large growth among Hispanics, and there was no real way to draw them out of the district. However, with 17.9% overall population increase, the 15th had to shrink, and that meant GOP voters at the periphery.
After a number of delays, Republicans unveiled their newly drawn congressional map on December 13, 2011. The map drew Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into the same district while putting six Republicans into safer districts.
The Senate State Government Committee approved the bill 6-5 along party lines, with the exception of Sen. Mike Folmer (R), who said the map appeared to be specifically drawn to dilute Democratic votes and was the perfect example of why redistricting reform is needed. Barry Kauffman, lobbyist for Common Cause of Pennsylvania, agreed with Folmer, saying the plan "is a clear-cut case of politicians picking their voters in order to prevent voters from having a meaningful opportunity to pick their elected officials."
The Senate voted to approve the new map by a 26-24 vote on December 14, 2011. The map then went to the House, who approved it 136-61 on December 20, 2011. Democrats introduced their own map as an amendment, but it failed. Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn issued a press release, stating, "The Republicans have proposed a map far more partisan and gerrymandered than anyone would have guessed, a map that they will now force into law without any public input."
Corbett signed the new map into law on December 22, 2011.
On August 17, 2011, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission unanimously approved the census data and voted to go ahead with the redistricting process. This officially began the 90 day period allotted to the Commission to introduce a preliminary map. Commission members identified 129 precincts where precinct lines and census data may not match up, but they decided to correct the errors as they went rather than wait any longer.
The LRC held a meeting on October 31, 2011 where it took up a vote on new legislative district maps. Voting 3-2 along party lines, the panel passed a preliminary Republican proposal that moved seats from west to east. House seats would be added in Allentown, Berks County, Chester County and York County, while eliminating existing districts in Erie and Philadelphia and Allegheny County.
Democrats attacked the plan as partisan, expressing hope that the plan would change prior to adoption. Rep. Gregory Vitali (D) stated, "It seems what this process has been about is incumbency protection, not about the best welfare of communities." Republicans called their plan fair, stressing that the overwhelming loss of population in the west came from Democratic districts, and thus their map was simply an accurate reflection of population changes.
Democrats were also critical of the negotiating process. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody lividly complained that Republicans didn't share their proposed plan until Monday. "And my guess is clearly that my colleague had a significant more amount time to review the plan. Frankly, I look at is as a classic bait and switch," Dermody said.
Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s office released a revised map of state senate districts on December 7, 2011. According to Pileggi's press release, the new plan "incorporates more than 150 requests made by Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa" and "modifies 25 Senate districts from the Preliminary Plan."
By a 4-1 vote the Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved new Senate and House maps on December 12, 2011. No further action was required to implement the districts for 2012, but there was a 30-day period to file appeals with the state Supreme Court. One district in the Senate and five in the House were moved from the western part of the state to the east. Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D) initially said Democrats had not decided whether they would appeal, but during the first week of January 2012 he said an appeal would be forthcoming.
The court received at least 11 appeals by the January 11, 2012 deadline. The broadest appeal came from the Senate Democrats, arguing against plans to move a Senate district from the southwestern portion of the state to the northeast, move Harrisburg out of its present district, and splits to multiple counties and municipalities. Another major appeal was made by Michael Churchill, a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, on behalf of 13 citizens. He argued that counties and towns were unnecessarily divided in order to include the homes of incumbents.
Maps thrown out
After hearing arguments on January 23, 2012, the state Supreme Court threw out the maps two days later by a vote of 4-3. Calling the redistricting approach "contrary to law," the court ruled current district lines would stay in place until the Legislative Reapportionment Commission could devise a plan that was legal. With the signature filing deadline for state legislative candidates quickly approaching on February 14, the 2012 elections could have taken place in districts that were drawn in 2001.
The court rendered their full opinion on February 3, 2012. Chief Justice Ronald Castille said most appeals were rejected for only showing how a particular region was drawn unconstitutional, but cited two as having a big picture focus and showing how the whole map could be drawn better. One was submitted by Senate Democrats and the other came from Amanda Holt, a 29 year-old piano teacher and Republican committeewoman. The court said Holt's map proved the Legislative Redistricting Commission failed to meet the criteria that municipalities and wards should only be split if absolutely necessary. She initially showed her map to the commission at a hearing on September 7, 2011, but they went on to release a map that had more than twice as many splits as hers did.
Commission meeting, delays
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission met on February 22, 2012, but did not hold a vote. The next meeting was scheduled for February 28, 2012. but the day before it was announced that the meeting had been rescheduled for March 2 without giving a reason why. On March 1 it was announced, again without a stated reason, that the meeting would be rescheduled, but a new date was not given.
On March 8, 2012, Commission chairman Stephen McEwen said talks had been "far from productive" and so it would be pointless to hold a meeting the following week, but that he hoped there would be a vote by March 19.
The next meeting was set for April 12, 2012. While leaders did not say there was new deal, they were expecting a new preliminary plan to be voted on.
New map approved by LRC
On April 12, 2012, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission finally met, voting 4-1 in favor of a compromise proposal put forth by chairman Stephen McEwen. The revised plan addressed municipality splits, with the new Senate map containing only two split between districts while the House map has 68. The initial maps that were rejected by the court had 108 municipal splits.
The commission met on May 2, 2012 to take public comments and had until May 14 to decide whether or not to approve the maps. If approved, they would be in effect starting in 2013 and be used in the 2014 elections.
The LRC voted 4-1 on June 8, 2012 to approve the final plan. The plan, which was drawn up by Republican members, was sent to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Before the court could sign off on the map, citizens had 30 days to file a complaint.
League rallies with Common Cause
Gathering on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, a joint effort between the League of Women Voters and Common Cause assailed Pennsylvania's current system as outdated and opaque. Its members also pointed to the outcome of the 2001 process, when nearly every district in the state was drawn with some decidedly biased lines.
The PennUltimate Run
Paul J. Mathison began his trek at 9 am on the appointed day at the War Memorial in Wayne, expecting to take about 50 days to sprint around the state. His route went from Wayne to Radnor to Pittsburgh, turning north toward Erie, crossing the state to Scranton, heading south toward Liberty Bell, and then returning to Radnor to finish.
While lamenting that it was too late for the steps necessary to turn redistricting over the citizens in 2011, "The Run" sought to raise enough awareness about corruption and gerrymandering to push through an independent redistricting commission for 2021. Bolstering the public statement made by running the state, The PennUltimate also released a Blue Paper outlining the reasons to strip the legislature of redistricting power.
In explaining what he meant by a "Blue Paper," Mathison introduced it as, "...a compilation of white papers that have been presented ad infinitum on an issue to a point where people begin to turn blue in the face."
A government consultant by day, Mathison described his endeavor as, " an inspirational sort of thing, and not as an angry, burn-'em-at-the-stake type of endeavor...I am non-party affiliated. I'm ecumenical."
Mathison hit the halfway point of his run on April 21, 2011 and told a CNN reporter that he had been stopped by police three times after people who saw him running in cold weather assumed his stroller, which contained his supplies for the run, had a child in it, The weather for most of the run had in fact been bad enough that Mathison, who packed camping supplies, had taken to checking into hotels. He had also taken to stopping in at legislators' offices and introducing himself as he ran.
Occupy Harrisburg protestors disrupt a redistricting hearing on November 18, 2011
Protestors with the group Occupy Harrisburg disrupted a public redistricting hearing November 18, 2011, delaying the meeting for about 40 minutes. Approximately 50 members of the group engaged in a series of call and response chants, including excerpts from the Pennsylvania Constitution that deal with redistricting.
Shrinking the legislature
Sam Smith's plan was ambitious; a Constitutional amendment requiring House and Senate passage in two consecutive regular session of the Assembly plus voter approval. However, if the House Speaker got his way, Pennsylvania's House of Representatives would drop from 203 to 153 members, effective with the 2021 redistricting work.
However, Smith might have had a chance at selling it when redistricting was on peoples' minds, the economy was in such bad shape that slashing 50 salaries and all the attendants costs of maintaining a legislator's office was an easy sell, and incumbents would have ten years to move on to higher office and pick up plush appointments before the reduction took effect.
Smith presented his plan to the House State Government Committee on August 9, 2011, explaining, “The No. 1 reason I proposed this bill (for a smaller House) was effectiveness, understanding and the ability to communicate and build consensus.” His plan would leave the state senate at 50 members.
A competing proposal by Rep. Mike Reese (R) would have reduced the House to 151 members and also cut the Senate down to 40 members. A third proposal, by Rep. Rob Kauffman (R) would have reduced the House by 10 members every decade during redistricting for the next 50 years.
Speaker of the House Sam Smith (R) filed a federal suit in Philadelphia on January 30, 2012 seeking to stop primaries from being held in the 2001 districts, what he said were unconstitutional boundaries due to population shifts. Additionally, six legislative seats remained vacant. As Speaker, Smith was constitutionally required to call elections for the seats, however, he said doing so would schedule them to take place in unconstitutional districts.
Latino Justice lawsuit
New York-based group Latino Justice, working in concert with Latino Lines, filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania on February 2, 2012, alleging that use of the 2001 lines was unconstitutional and hurt the ability of Latinos to elect representatives of their choice. Under the 2001 map there was only one majority-Latino seat, while the plan the court threw out added three additional seats.
On February 8, 2012, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ruled that the election cycle was too far along to delay it, saying the court understood the concerns of using the 2001 map but "the granting of a temporary restraining order at this juncture would make no sense. Clearly, it would not be in the public interest."
Suits against June 8 plan
On July 6, 2012, the Senate Democratic minority caucus challenged the redrawn maps in state Supreme Court. A few days later, Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards, both members of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, filed suit against the plan, seeking it be redrawn to keep political jurisdictions whole "unless absolutely necessary."
Asked to speculate about the redistricting process, Pennsylvania legislators said that completing a Congressional map by the fall was optimistic and that sometime nearer to Christmas might be more realistic. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) said that he expected the General Assembly to have a Congressional draft reading in September or October 2011. The plan had to be completed by the end of the year to accommodate the state's primary election.
The timeline for legislative redistricting is as follows:
- Within 60 days of receipt of detailed results from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House certify members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission to the Secretary of State.
- Within 45 days, the four legislative members of the Commission select a fifth, who may not be an elected official or a government employee at the local, state, or Federal level
- Within 90 days, the Commission files a preliminary plan with the Secretary of State.
- All parties have 30 days to file objections
- The State Supreme Court hears objections and, if it so decrees, order changes
- The Commission make any revisions to the plan
- The Court hears any appeals
- If the Court so orders, and there are no further objections
- The Secretary of State publishes the map in at least one daily newspaper with general circulation in each legislative district
- If any party fails to meet their deadlines, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes over the entire process.
Deviation from "Ideal Districts"
|2000 Population Deviation|
|State House Districts||5.54%|
|State Senate Districts||3.98%|
|Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.|
- State Legislative and Congressional Redistricting after the 2010 Census
- State-by-state redistricting procedures
- Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission
- Detailed summary 2010 Census files for Pennsylvania
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- Legislative Reapportionment Commission, "February 27, 2012 press release"
- Legislative Reapportionment Commission, "March 1, 2012 press release"
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- National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”, accessed February 1, 2011