Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 Congressional Districts:Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts:
As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.
However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.
In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.
However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.
By forcing the Democratic voters to "waste" votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.
Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.
In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.
The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Voters no longer choose their politicians; instead, politicians choose their voters when they draw the district lines. I have been leading the fight to take the politics out of redistricting.
Redistricting has become a tool used by legislative leaders to ensure that elections are never competitive. As you know, the constitution requires that political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. In recent years, politicians of both parties have become increasingly blatant about drawing these lines to ensure that there are as few genuinely competitive districts as possible. As a result, 95 percent of us live in districts where our vote essentially does not count because those who drew the lines have already decided which party will win.
Pennsylvania has become a state with a significant majority of voters registered as Democratic. Yet, our Congressional delegation, state Senate and state House of Representatives are all at least 60% Republican. A substantial part of the explanation to this is an adroit political redistricting: "packing" (squeezing the opposition's votes into a few districts) and "cracking" (splitting pockets of opposition voters into separate districts where they cannot form a majority) to preserve the dominant party.
Bonin, a member of the JSPAN Board of Directors, provided an overview of the process by which redistricting is accomplished for state and federal elections in Pennsylvania, what role is played by the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission and which Constitutional provisions come into play. He also traced the history of litigation with respect to interpretations of key provisions of the state Constitution and explained how these likely may impact redistricting decisions currently before the Court.
Here at Prison Policy Initiative we're always trying to think of better ways to explain the problem of prison gerrymandering to folks who may not have heard about it before. Prison gerrymandering is the practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prisons that detain them, and then using those numbers when election districts are redrawn in order to comply with the Supreme Court's one person-one vote requirement.
When I first heard about this "miscount," I wasn't sure exactly who was harmed by it. Normally, we think that living next door to a prison is undesirable; in this situation, though, living next door to the prison is highly beneficial. That's because the votes of people who live next door to a prison carry more weight than the votes of people who live in non-prison districts. I'm from North Carolina, and there's a great example of this problem back home that helped me understand the harm caused by prison gerrymandering.
Yesterday, I wrote about the Republican sketchy claim of having won a mandate in the House of Representatives where they will hold about a 40 seat edge despite losing the popular vote. I explained how redistricting process undermines Democratic representation by wasting Democratic votes in huge super majorities.
Today, as an exercise I tried to quantify how big an electoral advantage the Republicans are starting with for the rest of the decade thanks to the 2010 redistricting. I created a spreadsheet with the latest election returns for each of the 435 House races and sorted them by the difference between the (leading) Democrat and (leading) Republican. In order to gain a majority, Democrats would have to win 218 seats.
Suppose we magically added 7.2% to the Democratic totals in each district across the nation. In that case, the Democrats would have won the first 217 races on my spreadsheet, the Republicans would still have won the last 217 races on my spreadsheet (although by a smaller margin), and everything would depend on the result of the final race (Florida's 16th Congressional District) which would then be a dead heat between Fitzgerald and Buchanan.
In this thought experiment the House of Representatives would be precisely in balance, but the Democrats would have increased their margin in the popular vote by 7.2% from the actual value of 0.3% (48.5% to 48.8%) to a hypothetical value of 7.5%.
When the Democrats need to beat the Republicans by 7.5% just to break even, there is something seriously wrong with our democratic process!
Last week, Americans voted not just for President but also for their Representatives and Senators. Results were mixed. In the Presidential election, Obama edged out Romney in both the Electoral College (332 to 206) and in the popular vote (51% to 48%). In the Senate, Democrats overcame all odds and not only held onto but actually expanded their majority. However, in the House of Representatives, Democrats only picked up 4-8 seats out of the 25 seats they needed to retake control of the House. (Four seats remain undecided: AZ-2, CA-7, CA-52 and LA-2.)
Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-2) took solace in keeping the House. "We'll have as much of a mandate as he [President Obama] will to not raise taxes."
How is that the same electorate shows up at the polls and hands victories to the GOP in the House and to Obama and the Democrats in the Senate?
In fact, Boehner is wrong. There was no mandate for the Republicans to keep control of the House. In fact, a majority of Americans voted for a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. According to Dan Keating at the Washington Post:
Democratic candidates for the House got 54,301,095 votes (48.8%) while
Republican candidates for the House got 53,822,442 votes (48.5%).
But if that is the case, why did more Republicans get elected than Democrats?
What saved Boehner's majority wasn't the will of the people but the power of redistricting. As my colleague Dylan Matthews showed, Republicans used their control over the redistricting process to great effect, packing Democrats into tighter and tighter districts and managing to restructure races so even a slight loss for Republicans in the popular vote still meant a healthy majority in the House.
In most states where Republicans controlled redistricting, the Democrats' share of House seats was far beneath their share of the presidential vote. (Dylan Matthews)
That's a neat trick, but it's not a popular mandate, or anything near to it - and Boehner knows it. That's why his first move after the election was to announce, in a vague-but-important statement, that he was open to some kind of compromise on taxes.
For example, here in Pennsylvania, the Republicans control the Governor's mansion, the State House and the State Senate, and they used their control to gerrymander the state so that while the Democrats got a majority of the votes (53%) they only took 5 out of 18 seats (28%). They do so by packing Democratic super-majorities into a few districts. Brady won PA-1 with 85.0% of the vote, and Fattah won PA-2 with 89.4%. These huge margins represent wasted votes that potentially could have elected additional Democrats had the districts been drawn differently.
The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of Maryland's groundbreaking No Representation Without Population Act, which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes. The 2010 law was a major civil rights victory that ended the distortions in fair representation caused by using incarcerated persons to pad the population counts of districts containing prisons.
The law upheld today is a state-based solution to the long-standing problem in the federal Census of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote there and remain residents of their home communities for virtually all other legal purposes. The practice of prison-based gerrymandering particularly harms urban communities and communities of color that disproportionately contain the home residences of incarcerated persons. Other states have since passed similar laws, but the Maryland law was the only one to go to the Supreme Court.
"Today's Supreme Court decision in Fletcher v. Lamone affirmed the constitutional 'one person one vote' foundation of our decade-old campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering," said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the nation's leading expert on how the Census Bureau's practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations harms the democratic process.
As the amicus brief ... makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.
Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos, hailed today's ruling in Fletcher v. Lamone:
The Supreme Court's ruling is a huge victory for the national campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering. This decision sets an important precedent that will encourage other states to reform their redistricting laws and end the distortion in fair representation caused by treating incarcerated persons as residents of prisons.
Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network
A new set of district maps for the Pennsylvania House and Senate was proposed on April 12, 2012, by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In response to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's ruling in February in Holt v. LRC, the Commission proposed new maps with fewer divisions of counties and municipalities. A thirty-day period is provided for members of the public to testify at a hearing on May 2 or to file written comments with respect to the proposed maps. JSPAN and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are members of a coalition of non-profit agencies and individuals studying the newly proposed districts. We invite your comments and suggestions.
Great news to report from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court!
Gerrymandering declared unconstitutional in Holt v. 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission.
Our recent article The Legislative Reapportionment Commission Strikes Back explained Pennsylvania's flawed redistricting process. Many local leaders petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court about how their communities had been diced into a number of legislative districts. The LRC countered those claims by appealing to the big picture: those splits were "necessary". Meanwhile, Amanda Holt et al and State Senator Jay Costa et al each proposed a complete redistricting map superior to the LRC's official map according to all of the relevant criteria: they split fewer communities, the districts were more compact and equal in population, etc. The LRC countered these petitions saying that they usurped the LRC's traditional authority.
In the past few citizens had the technological know how to propose redistricting maps of their own so unfair maps went unchallenged. Now private citizens like Amanda Holt can produce such maps on their personal computers. In fact, Philadelphia, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Arizona have held redistricting contests literally inviting their citizens to help draw the lines.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the petitioners and rejected the LRC's gerrymander. The vote was 4-3 with Justices Castille (R), Baer (D), Todd (D) and McCaffery (D) in the majority, and Justices Saylor (R), Eakin (R) and Melvin (R) dissenting. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille crossed party lines and joined the three democratic Associate Justices in the per curium order remanding the redistricting back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission which will have to start over again.
AND NOW, this 25th day of January, 2012, upon consideration of the petitions for review and briefs in these legislative redistricting appeals, and after entertaining oral argument on January 23, 2012, this court finds that the final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan is contrary to law. PA. CONST. art. II, Sec. 17(d). Accordingly, the final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan is REMANDED to the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission with a directive to reapportion the Commonwealth in a manner consistent with this Court's Opinion which will follow.
The 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan... shall remain in effect until a revised final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan having the force of law is approved.
In the meantime, we will stick with the old districts drawn in 2001.
Is the idea that voters should choose their representatives passé?
For too long, politicians have usurped the rights of citizen's to choose their representatives, instead gerrymandering their states, effectively choosing the people who are most likely to elect them. Hopefully this decision will limit the ability of politicians to choose their constituents and put the power back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.
The new calendar for nominating petitions follows the jump.
Pennsylvania's historic gerrymander is approaching a conclusion.
Let's review the story so far.
Act One: Stacking the Deck. The Census Bureau released the data for Pennsylvania from the 2010 Census on March 11, 2011, but the Legislative Reapportionment Commission on a party-line vote delayed choosing their fifth and final member until the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and named Judge Stephen McEwen (R) on April 19.
Act Two: Running Out The Clock. According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18. There would then be 60 days for "corrections" and hearings, leading to a final plan by September 17.
Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by October 16. This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year's elections. However, according to the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. The LRC's first public meeting was not until August 17, and at that time, they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania and declared that this would start the 90-day clock. By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans bought themselves four months of time.
Act Three: Bait and Switch. Republicans on the Committee pretend to negotiate with the Democrats in good faith, and then reveal their secret, partisan redistricting plan minutes before the LRC votes along party lines. The 2011 poster child for the abuse of voters' rights to fair elections is manifested in central Pennsylvania's 15th Senatorial district shown above. Currently, the district encompasses Harrisburg and its suburbs east of the Susquehanna River, plus a small adjacent section of York County. But in an attempt to protect an embattled incumbent Senator, the LRC created a new district that eliminates troublesome Harrisburg constituents. So instead of being contained almost entirely in a compact Dauphin County region, the new 15th district snakes through Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York and Adams counties creating a 150 mile horseshoe that dismantles any sense of community.
Act Five: Our Protests Fall On Deaf Ears. December 12, the LRC issues its final redistricting plan, and eleven groups of Pennsylvanians file petitions with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging this map.
Now, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission has responded to the various petitions.
Some of the petitions are by mayors and other locals officials whose communities have been split, packed, cracked and otherwise gerrymandered by the proposed map. The LRC argues that such local concerns should be ignored because splits are necessary in one corner of the state in order to avoid other problems elsewhere.
However, the complaints by Amanda Holt et al and Senator Jay Costa et al take a holistic approach. They both propose complete maps which satisfying the Federal and State requirements of equal population, compact districts, etc. while avoiding splits better than does the LRC map. However, the LRC does not accept this sort of map, saying that approving a map which was not created by the LRC would "invite the public at large to usurp the Commission's responsibilities and subvert its constitutional role."
The LRC argues that their plan is no more gerrymandered than previous redistricting maps, and perhaps they are correct on this point. However, computer technology is much more widespread now than it was in 1980 or 1990 or 2000. Back then the only people who could understand the arcane world of redistricting were experts with years of training and expensive equipment, so political operatives were able to get away with a lot of mischief. Now, ordinary citizens like Amanda Holt are able to work with the same data that the LRC has been working with, and if her map is better than the LRC's map according to all of the criteria mentioned in the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution, then it should be adopted in place of the flawed plan put forward by the LRC.
Oral arguments are scheduled for this Monday, January 23 in the Supreme Court Courtroom at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
Because of the delays imposed by the Republicans on the LRC, the Supreme Court will have little time to decide. Candidates will start circulating nominating petitions for the primaries the very next day: Tuesday, January 24. It would be very confusing to change the district lines once the primary is underway. (The nominating petitions are due on February 14.)
The question is whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will act like a partisan body and rubber stamp the gerrymander by a 4-3 party line vote, or whether they will stand up for the Pennsylvania Constitution and protect the voting rights of Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum.
In what appears on its surface to be an unfortunate move shifting Jewish voters out of the district of the only Jewish member of Congress ever elected in Tennessee, Republicans are apparently backing a proposal that would separate Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) from the Jewish constituents and institutions he has represented for a number of years at the state and federal levels.
The only thing that can compare to the ongoing assault on fairness by Republicans in Washington is what Republicans in Harrisburg did with the Pennsylvania redistricting process. Partisan politics won out in the end. Even my home county of Berks with a population of just over 400,00 got split into four congressional districts. Republican politicians are breaking the public's trust by breaking apart our community.
The Pennsylvania State House has passed the proposed congressional redistricting maps. Nearly half of the Democrats in the House voted for it. PoliticsPA has a rundown of who crossed party lines to vote for or against the maps. Keegan Gibson gives his opinion on why each rep who voted against their party's recommendations did so. It's interesting stuff.
Remember, everyone who voted yes was agreeing that the proposed 7th district (as shown to the right) was a good idea.
Let's not forget who came up with this bizarrely shaped district and who approved it.
Republicans notched a major redistricting win on Tuesday with the unveiling yesterday of a Pennsylvania congressional map that deals a sharp blow to Democrats' prospects in the state. The plan is not final — it must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and then signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Republicans control all levers of redistricting in the state, leaving Democrats with little power to contest the map.
"This congressional redistricting plan is breathtakingly brazen in its defiance of the interests of Pennsylvania's voters" said Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman, upon the Senate State Government Committee's vote to approve the Congressional redistricting plan (SB-1249) that will be in place for the coming decade. Calling the plan the "ultimate in political cynicism" the bill abandons any pretense of maintaining congressional districts as communities of interest.
The plan unveiled today features a district (CD 7) that meanders bizarrely through five southeastern counties resembling the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. Another (CD 15) stretches from the Delaware River (Bethlehem and Allentown areas) to the Susquehanna River (just south of Harrisburg) following close to the I-78 and I-81 corridors; while another reaches from the Delaware even deeper into the Allegheny mountains (CD 10). One western Pennsylvania district, resembling an emaciated hammerhead shark, reaches from the Ohio border to Johnstown.
Erie County has been split in half. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have been separated from the rest of Northeastern PA. Easton has been separated from the rest of the Lehigh Valley.
Meanwhile, Southeastern Pennsylvania's fractal lines wind and intertwine in such a way that it is difficult to tell who lives where, and the 7th Congressional District is barely contiguous. On the other side of the state Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire have been drawn into a district together and will have to compete in the Democratic primary.
Common Cause/PA noted that the legislature has had the census data, on which the redistricting plan is based, since the beginning of April, but did not release its proposed plan until December 14th. The legislature could easily have developed the new congressional district plan by the end July, put it out for 60 days of public comments and public hearings, and still passed it before the end of October. Instead, with the date for candidates to circulate nominating petitions looming just six weeks away, the bill will move forward on the legislative fast track, with no public hearing on the plan, and no meaningful opportunity for interested citizens and community leaders to review the plan and attempt to improve it during its one week of legislative life.
Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA), left, and Mark Critz (D-PA) must face each other in a primary.
While states likes Iowa, California and Arizona have moved forward to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians whose principal goals are to create a gerrymandered advantage for their parties and to protect incumbent lawmakers from the voters, Pennsylvania's system remains the ultimate incumbency protection program. Several senators even noted that Pennsylvania's system manifests an abuse of power regardless of which party is in charge. "If Pennsylvanians ever hope to take back control of their government" said Kauffman, "we must reform our system for drawing legislative and congressional district boundaries. This 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 Democratic party has created a website where citizens can vote on which Congressional District is the most gerrymandered and a Rorschach test where you can propose what each district most resembles. (Examples include "Zombie aardvark in an airplane seat" [District 3], "A rabbit pulling the tail of a giraffe" [District 7]" and "A seahorse riding a platypus" [District 17].)
Close-ups on Southwestern Pennsylvania and Southeastern Pennsylvania
House Democratic Caucus Whip Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) intends to offer a fair Congressional map as an amendment to the Republican maps unveiled Tuesday (SB 1249).
For the purpose of electing representatives of the people of Pennsylvania to serve in the House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, this Commonwealth shall be divided into 18 districts which shall have one Congressman each, as follows:
(1) The First District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(2) The Second District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(3) The Third District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(4) The Fourth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(5) The Fifth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(6) The Sixth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(7) The Seventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(8) The Eighth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(9) The Ninth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(10) The Tenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(11) The Eleventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(12) The Twelfth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(13) The Thirteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(14) The Fourteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(15) The Fifteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(16) The Sixteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(17) The Seventeenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(18) The Eighteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
Not much information there. The Senate and House State Government Committees are scheduled to have a joint informational committee meeting on Dec. 12, to discuss redistricting. There's another informational meeting scheduled for Dec. 13th. The House State Government Committee is scheduled to have a voting meeting on Dec. 15th and one of the issues slated for that meeting is redistricting. Since this is Dec. 7th, a Thursday, and the 12th is a Monday there is very little time for a redistricting map to be released, let alone allow for public comment.
No one even seems to pretend that these district boundaries are drawn with no regard for party or the protection of incumbents. It's just impossible to take this seriously as anything other than a political exercise in the worst possible meaning of that phrase.
I do remember that there was an opportunity to make some changes in this process a few years ago and people trying to seize that opportunity were thwarted. And now those chickens have come home to roost.
The biggest political power-play of the decade is unfolding right now in Harrisburg — and it is, perhaps, the most self-serving and least transparent process of state government. It is known as reapportionment or redistricting.
Every ten years, following the census, each state is required to reconfigure the lines for its congressional and legislative districts, to ensure that everyone has equal representation. For its legislative districts, Pennsylvania establishes a five-person Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), comprised of the top Republicans and Democrats in the state House and Senate, plus a fifth person who serves as chairman. The Pennsylvania State Constitution directs the LRC to ensure that each district has approximately the same number of residents, is compact and contiguous, and keeps counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards intact unless a split is "absolutely necessary". This is supposed to lead to elections that are fair and competitive.
The reality, however, is much different. Looking at the proposed legislative maps is like a game of "name-that-shape." Our redistricting system has been contorted into an incumbency protection game that virtually guarantees one party control of each district and the re-election of incumbents. This defies intentions of representative democracy in which elections are to be the citizens' tool to hold power accountable. By "gerrymandering" legislative districts into bizarre shapes, legislators now cherry-pick their voters instead of voters picking their legislators.
The 2011 poster child for the abuse of voters' rights to fair elections is manifested in central Pennsylvania's 15th Senatorial district shown above. Currently, the district encompasses Harrisburg and its suburbs east of the Susquehanna River, plus a small adjacent section of York County. But in an attempt to protect an embattled incumbent Senator, the LRC created a new district that eliminates troublesome Harrisburg constituents. So instead of being contained almost entirely in a compact Dauphin County region, the new 15th district snakes through Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York and Adams counties creating a 150 mile horseshoe that dismantles any sense of community. The plan has been opposed by public officials throughout the five-county gerrymander.
The five-members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission may have a greater impact on the outcome of Pennsylvania's elections over the next decade than all of the state's voters combined, because when they "gerry-rig" district borders, they essentially predetermine the probable outcome of most legislative elections for the coming decade.
However, the system can work the way the Constitution intends. One enterprising citizen has proven it (and did so working without the millions of dollars, expensive computer software and dozens of staff available to Pennsylvania's Legislative Reapportionment Commission). Amanda Hoft developed an alternative plan which bests the LRC's Preliminary Plan by strictly adhering to the constitutionally mandated standards. While one legislative leader proudly crowed that the LRC's plan for the House splintered only 110 municipalities this year, as opposed to 121 in 2001, the Hoft's plan broke up only 27 municipalities. On the Senate map, she split only 4 municipalities instead of the 27 fractured in the official plan. By eliminating all political criteria that are intended to build party advantage and safe seats for incumbents, she instead built districts to protect citizens' interests in competitive elections and government accountability.
Concerned citizens across the Commonwealth stated their grievances with the plan by filing "exceptions" as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution. In Harrisburg, on November 23, the Committee heard testimony demonstrating various objections to the redistricting plan.
Article II, Section 16 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution says that State House and Senate districts "shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable" and that "unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district."
The failure of released preliminary maps to follow the Pennsylvania Constitution left multiple counties, municipalities, and wards suffering. Amanda Holt explained what went wrong and how the commission can correct this.
no splits of political subdivisions are allowed unless leaving them whole creates a district which violates one of the other constitutional requirements of being compact, contiguous, or of equal population.
Her alternate redistricting plan dramatically reduces the number of counties and townships being split while preserving the compactness, population equality and contiguity of the official LRC plan.
For example, Liz Rogan, President of the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township, explained how her township is being sliced and diced. Since redistricting after the 2000 census, Lower Merion went from being represented by two state representatives to three representatives and now, following the 2010 Census, this proposal will have Lower Merion represented by four House members. However, as shown in Amanda Holt's plan and as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution, Lower Merion need not and must not be divided into multiple legislative districts.
State Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., said she is discouraged that House State Government Committee members are being asked to vote next week on Congressional redistricting legislation (H.B. 5) because it fails to list any specific geographic information of how the Congressional districts will be composed and the public has not been given the chance to comment on it.
Josephs is the Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee. Committee members were informed yesterday they would be voting on the bill Monday. She immediately wrote to her Republican counterpart on the committee, state Rep. Darryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, asking for a more transparent process, as well as the complete details.
Josephs wrote to Metcalfe:
Earlier this year you and Senator McIlhinney held three hearings across the state in which you congratulated yourself for how open, transparent and inclusive Congressional reapportionment would be accomplished in this legislative session. If you were serious about openness, transparency and inclusiveness, wouldn't it be wise to share the details of the plan including maps well in advance of a voting meeting and to gather public comment from interested parties and community leaders in no less than three public hearings?
Earlier today Metcalfe canceled Monday's meeting but rescheduled it for Wednesday, Dec. 7. Josephs said she assumes an amendment that provides the details she seeks still will be brought out at the last minute, like most of the legislation brought forward by the House Republican majority this session.
The Republican majority Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Committee voted yesterday to approve a highly partisan preliminary redistricting plan. (Video available).
In a classic bait and switch, the commission's Republican majority a redistricting plan that ignores the good faith negotiations of the previous months and is designed only to strengthen a GOP stronghold in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) argued the map is unfair for the people of Pennsylvania, politically motivated and shows a lack of respect for the constitution.
For the first time, this morning we have seen the map the House Republican have proposed that bears very little resemblance to the negotiations that took place over the last several months, makes changes to decisions which we thought were made as late as last Friday night, and although we would like to participate here today and vote yes for this plan, we also believe the people of Pennsylvania have the right to expect us to behave in a fair and equitable manner, and produce districts which are reflective of their wishes and the population. Right now we have a highly partisan plan offered by the House Republicans that does not do well and honor the people of Pennsylvania. We [Democrats] have a plan here which we are going to offer which complies with the Constitution of Pennsylvania, and complies with the Voting Rights Act, and deals with political fairness. There is no such thing as political fairness in the [short] length of time we have had to observe the Republican plan. And Mr. Chairman [Judge Stephen J. McEven (R)] I would ask, seeing as we have had just 10 minutes or half an hour rather to look at this. If we want to negotiate a plan that is fair, out of fairness, I would request more time to review this plan. We actually have several days into November in order to comply with the law on presenting a preliminary plan, but as it stands right now I certainly can not vote for [this plan], and would request the opportunity to study this plan more diligently and more carefully, other than this half-hour we just had. And I would like the opportunity with honesy and fairness to negotiate a fair plan for all of us.
Anyone who objects to this preliminary plan should file their objection in writing by November 30 to Charles E. O'Connor, Jr., Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. A public hearing will be held on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 12 noon in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburgh, PA 17120. Please call O'Connor at 717/705-6339 for additional information.
If politics were sports, someone would call a delay of game penalty on the Republicans for illegally trying to run out the clock while they are ahead.
What is happening?
Every ten years, the United States takes a census of its population, and the states must then redraw their Congressional and State Legislative Districts to take into account shifts in population over the last ten years. Since politicians are drawing their own districts, this process is rife with conflicts of interest as politicians choose their constituents most likely to reelect them into office.
In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a clear advantage in the redistricting process since they control the governorship, both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court. The only limits on their power is recourse to courts by groups disenfranchised via violations to the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, the GOP seeks to close this window of opportunity.
Paragraph (c) of Section 17 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution lays out the calendar for how redistricting is supposed to work:
No later than ninety days after either the commission has been duly certified or the population data for the Commonwealth as determined by the Federal decennial census are available, whichever is later in time, the commission shall file a preliminary reapportionment plan with such elections officer. The commission shall have thirty days after filling the preliminary plan to make corrections in the plan. Any person aggrieved by the preliminary plan shall have the same thirty-day period to file exceptions with the commission in which case the commission shall thirty days after the date the exceptions were filled to prepare and file with such elections officer a revised reapportionment plan. If no exceptions are filled within thirty days, or if filed and acted upon, the commission's plan shall be final and have the force of law.
According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution:
the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18.
There would then be 30 days for "corrections" and hearings, leading a final plan by August 17.
Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by September 16.
This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year's elections.
However, the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission have their own unique calendar. According to them, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. Last Wednesday, August 17, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first public meeting and they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania, and declare that this would start the 90-day clock.
By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans have bought themselves four months of time, instead of being already beyond the deadline, they can "deliberate" until November 15. They can then issue "corrections" and hold "hearings" until December 15. In theory, the citizens of Pennsylvania can then file any appeals in hopes of restoring their right to equitable representation. However, in practice the courts will have their back against the wall as candidates are already starting their campaigns including preparing the petitions (due February 14, 2012) to qualify for the April primary.
The Republican legislators hope to carve Pennsylvania in districts according to their political calculus, and run out the clock to avoid any potential challenges to their fait accompli.
This article was prepared on Monday. On Wednesday, the Assembly passed the plan and it is now on the Governor's desk awaiting signature.
The Wisconsin legislature is rushing through a redistricting plan so they can lock in the maps before the scheduled recall elections can change who has the power to draw district lines. In that rush, prison-based gerrymandering is poised to have an even greater impact on state, county and municipal districts than it did a decade ago.
The Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they can't vote and remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. Crediting thousands of people to other communities has staggering implications for Wisconsin's democracy, which uses the Census to apportion political power on the basis of equally-sized state and county legislative districts.
Wisconsin's 53rd Assembly district has the highest concentration of prisons in the state. The 53rd District claims 5,583 incarcerated people as residents of the district, even though state law says that incarcerated people remain residents of their homes. All districts send some people to prison, although some districts some districts send more than others. But not all districts have prisons, and concentrating 23,000 prisoners in a handful of districts enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts and dilutes all votes cast elsewhere.
While Pennsylvania limps along with the redistricting process, it looks like the same names who ran in PA-6 last year will likely do it again next year. In 2010, there was a bitter Democratic primary between Doug Pike and Manan Trivedi. Manan won by 714 votes, and went on to lost to Jim Gerlach by 14 points. Manan has already started raising money (he sent a letter), and Doug is leaning towards running (I asked him).
Can both of them run against Jim? Maybe. The 6th district was created in 2001 FOR Jim Gerlach. Back in March, I posted on the current map, the census data, and the likelihood that the sole PA district that wouldn't change is Bob Brady's district, as no one messes with Bob Brady. You'd think the state would have made some progress since then, but this is Pennsylvania. The redistricting committee is always made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a chair selected by the four. As usual, they couldn't agree, so it went to court. The committee, with its court-appointed chair, is supposed to come up with a plan by 11 August.
As of this writing, the most likely outcome is that Mark Critz's district (Murtha's old district) will be the one to go away. From a census perspective, it's the most reasonable. This redraw will pit Jason Altmire (CD 4) and Mark Critz (CD 12) in a primary. The GOP committee (and it is) will try hard to also force Allyson Schwartz (CD 13) and Chaka Fattah (CD 2) into a primary. However, it's likely that Tim Holden's area (CD 17) will grow to include Scranton, and become a more safe Democratic seat. This in turn will shore up the Republican pockets Lou Barletta (CD 11) needs.
Meanwhile, the GOP wants badly to increase their holds of the 6th and 7th. The 7th was Joe Sestak's, but is now Pat Meehan's. I haven't heard that Joe is thinking of running again. The eastern parts of these districts would have to move to force the Schwartz-Fattah primary. If the 6th moves north, and the 7th moves west, Manan would be in the 6th (he lives in Birdsboro). Jim would be in the 6th (West Pikeland), but Doug may well be in the 6th, as he lives in Tredyffrin (which was part of the 7th until 2001). So a primary re-match is a maybe, but Jim will certainly be challenged. If you're having trouble with what's where, click on the map to see a larger version. It's hard, I know, as some of the numbers are across the state from one another.
We'll have to wait a while to find out where Manan and Doug will run, and it would be great if they could run without having to re-fight that primary, which was ugly. Both are solid candidates, and without having to spend time, money and resources on a primary would have a good shot against both Jim and Pat. There is a lot of animosity against both of the incumbents from long term Republicans who feel that they, especially Jim since he's been there longer, have abandoned Republican ideals for their sell-out to the teabaggers. Thus, Democrats running on what will likely be a bring back Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid platform will perform well. Remember, demographics in this area skew old.
I'll be back with a more detailed look after the districts are drawn next month.
Honorable Chairmen and members of the committees, thank you for holding these hearings and for inviting me to speak to you today. Holding hearings like this is an important first step in including the public in this crucial part of our democratic process.
Public oversight is a crucial part of the checks and balances necessary to ensure that redistricting process is not abused to advantage any political party, protect incumbents, or punish political rivals. Democracy requires competitive elections and representative government.
In a democracy, voters choose their representative to protect the common interest. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to a system of gerrymandering which turns democracy upside-down so that it is politicians who choose their voters strategically in order to advance their personal interests rather than the other way around.Packing the voters into a small number of districts in order to isolate them. (Figure 3) Cracking voters across multiple districts in order to dilute them. (Figure 4) And counting convicts where they are imprisoned rather than where they usually live. In a state like Pennsylvania where the process is totally controlled by a single political party, there may be a temptation to engage in partisan gerrymandering unless the media and the public are vigilant in their oversight.
Even when Democratic and Republican politicians share power, there is a possibility of mutually agreeable "sweetheart" gerrymandering as Democrats and Republicans engage in unseemly exchanges of constituents with the Democrat legislator offering up his Republican voters in exchange for his Republican colleague's Democratic voters. (Figure 2)
In order to encourage public participation in the redistricting process, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and its partners - the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Common Cause Pennsylvania - hope to run a Redistricting Content similar to those run in Virginia and Ohio and being run in Michigan, Arizona and Massachusetts.
The idea is to make Azavea's DistrictBuilder, Redistricting Software, and the underlying geographic, demographic and electoral data available freely on the Internet. We now have the technology to allow everyone to have a say in the redistricting process.
The Pennsylvania Redistricting Contest will be judged by impartial numerical criteria measuring:
equality, continuity, integrity, competitiveness, proportionality and compactness.
Equality. The principal of one-man, one-vote is enshrined in the Voting Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Constitution. We will not allow districts to deviate from their ideal population range and we will reward plans which promote higher standards of equality. Furthermore, we will require that majority-minority districts be maintained as required by the Voting Rights Act.
Contiguity. Each district must be contiguous and not contain any parts which are connected to the other parts at a single point.
Integrity. The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits legislative districts which divide any "county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward...unless absolutely necessary." By minimizing splits, voters understand easily who their representative is, and township and county officials do not have to interface with as many legislators. Our contest will penalize redistricting plans which unnecessarily divide these communities of interest.
Competitiveness. Gerrymandering undermines the democratic process by creating uncompetitive districts. When 90% of an incumbent's constituents belong to his political party, the incumbent is guaranteed reelection and no longer has any incentive to be responsive to the needs of his constituents. Non-competitive districts make everyone's vote irrelevant and reduce accountability. Our contest will penalize plans which create these sorts of lopsided districts.
Proportionality. The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to deliver a disproportionate share of the representation of the state into the hands of the political party controlling the redistricting process. In Pennsylvania, there are over 4 registered Democrats for every 3 registered Republicans, yet,Democrats only hold 37% of the Congressional delegation, 40% of the State Senate, and 45% seats in the State House.
Compactness. Bizarre shaped districts are a tell-tale sign that a map-makers is up to no good extending tentacles out of a district of their supporters to encompass his residence, or excising a community of opponents in order to secure his reelection. Our contest classify districts whose perimeter is disproportionately long compared to its area, and penalize redistricting plans accordingly.
Our hope is that the State Government Committees, Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and independent groups interested in political reform will support this initiative and help us make the DistrictBuilder software available to the general public.
Making tools like these available to the public as Florida and Alaska has value even in the absence of a contest.
However, we look forward to determining the best plan and promulgating it as an unbiased baseline against which the legislature's plans can be compared.
(The Pennsylvania Legislature's House State Government Committee and Senate State Government Committee are holding a joint hearing on redistricting tomorrow at 11am at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. These committee are responsible for the Congressional redistricting plan which will be used starting with next year's elections. After opening remarks by the committee chairmen Sen. Chuck McIlhinney and Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, several groups have been asked to offer testimony regarding the upcoming redistricting.
I am honored to be speaking on the behalf of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Lora Lavin will be speaking on behalf of The League of Women Voters. The event is open the public and members of the audience will be given an opportunity to comment as well. -- Dr. Daniel E. Loeb - promoted by Publisher)
-- by Lora Lavin, Representative Government Specialist, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
Left unchecked: politicians choose their voters instead of letting voters select their representatives.
Gerrymandering is the equivalent of rigging elections to get a predetermined outcome.
We believe some good old-fashioned competition can keep politicians honest.
The biggest political power-play of the decade is about to get underway in Pennsylvania. It is, perhaps, the most self-serving and least transparent process of state and local government. It's called redistricting. The outcome will determine the shape of representative democracy in Pennsylvania for the next decade.
Redistricting is the process of redrawing congressional, legislative, and local government representatives' district boundaries so that each district has approximately the same number of people. The goal is to ensure communities have an equal voice in Congress, state legislatures and city and township councils.
But the politicians don't see it that way. In Pennsylvania and most other states, district lines are drawn by the very lawmakers whose political careers will be affected by the changes. For them, redistricting is an opportunity to consolidate political power and ensure their reelection prospects. For example, Philadelphia's 172nd House District was transformed during the previous redistricting in order to guarantee the reelection of a powerful legislator. It was only after a political scandal that he was eventually defeated last year.
Modern technology makes this kind of extreme gerrymandering possible. Using expensive and sophisticated software, politicians can select their voters block by block and even house by house. The tools they use are "proprietary" meaning access is limited to those with the ability to pay lots of money. But now, a Philadelphia based software firm, Azavea, in partnership with a political science professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has developed DistrictBuilder. This relatively inexpensive open-source redistricting tool can be used by ordinary citizens to draw district maps and bring elections back into the hands of the people.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in partnership with JSPAN, Common Cause/PA and the PA League of Women Voters want to use DistrictBuilder to sponsor a redistricting competition and demonstrate that a non-partisan, open redistricting process based on objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional district maps in Pennsylvania. The competition would be open to individuals. The winners would be selected through an objective scoring system based on anti-gerrymandering criteria of compactness, competitiveness, representativeness, equality and integrity.
The three sponsoring organizations can contribute $6,000 toward prizes and incidental competition costs. But to use the software we need to raise $35,000 before May 1. Can you help? To make a tax-deductible contribution click the button or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. (Contributions directed to this project will be refunded if we do not meet our fundraising goal.)
For more information or become a co-sponsoring organizations, please contact Dan Loeb email@example.com.
The first thing I'd like to say about the Pennsylvania census numbers is that Philadelphia gained population for the first time since 1950. The current population of 1,526,006 raises it back to fifth largest in the US, replacing Phoenix, which had surpassed Philly about 4 years ago, and now has a population of 1,445,632. (Sorry, local pride and all that....plus we're not out to send people out of the country....)
So here's the map:
And here is the current map of Congressional Districts:
If you look at the two maps, you can see that certain areas will win, and some will lose. So, what do we think will happen given that on the state level, Pennsylvania became a Republican state in 2010? Despite the fact that the governor and three of four legislative caucuses are all from the western part of the state, that's the most likely point of loss for the seat that will disappear. If John Murtha were still alive, there's no doubt that his would be the district gerrymandered out of existence. But it looks like that district, the 12th, currently held by Blue Dog Mark Critz might end up more blue.
Still, the GOP will be playing with the lines in Southeastern PA. The money is on redrawing the line between the 2nd and the 8th, currently held by Chaka Fattah and Allyson Schwartz, respectively. This would be a battle between suburban whites and Philadelphia blacks. The kind of bloodbath the Republicans would pay to see.
Another likelihood is that the 6th and 7th (Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan (representing Joe Sestak's old district), respectively) will expand west into Lancaster County. Except, um, for Joe Pitts. He's the currently longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania delegation. He likes his job. He's a "good" Republican. He's also 71 and not spry. Still, the way population has grown more in Chester County as compared to Lancaster County, it's hard to tell. We'll see.
Almost everything else is in flux except CD 1, Bob Brady's district. No one messes with Bob Brady.
In many states, there is discussion about the growth of the Hispanic population and its affects on election outcomes. This is true in places like California, where the non-Hispanic white population is pegged at 40%. But here in Pennsylvania, Hispanics are not yet a driving force. Despite their huge percentage contribution to the overall state population growth, they are still less than 6% of the population, and are not organized as a political force.
In Pennsylvania, the Republicans control all the levers of power; they control the Pennsylvania House of Representative 112-91 and the Pennsylvania Senate 30-20 while Republican Tom Corbett is Governor.
According to Keegan Gibson at PoliticsPA, "the Republican delegation is coming to Harrisburg" today to plan the redistricting which will change this district map and shape the elections over the next 10 years.
Here are some scenarios that PA's Republican Congressmen are talking about, according to sources close to the delegation:
Schwartz vs. Fattah Republicans are eying the possibility of matching up two of PA's most powerful Democrats in a fratricidal showdown. Allyson Schwartz has millions of campaign dollars and the support of the white collar liberals of the Philly suburbs. Her district currently abuts that of Chaka Fattah, the most liked public figure in Philadelphia. It's unlikely either would be willing to budge from their seat if their districts were combined, and that would mean a knock-down, drag-out fight between the liberal white Democrats of the suburbs and the African-American Democrats of Philly. What Republican wouldn't love to see that?
Go West, Suburban Republicans Each of the Philly area Republicans hopes to have his district made more secure, and they're looking west to do it. The state's population growth is disproportionately found in south central PA, meaning that the Lancaster-based 16th district is likely to contract. That would leave room for Reps. Gerlach and Meehan to move west into the conservative parts of Chester County. Rep. Joe Pitts is the X-factor. The 71 year-old dean of the GOP delegation, Pitts lives in Chester County and would prefer to keep the seat based there.
Shuffle Southwest PA Dems and Beat Altmire the Old-Fashioned Way The GOP sees Rep. Jason Altmire as the most vulnerable Democrat in PA, but Republicans (read: Reps. Tim Murphy and Bill Shuster) don't want to pick up Democratic voters from his district. The GOP is looking at ways to move Democratic voters from Altmire's district into either that of Rep. Mark Critz or Rep. Mike Doyle in an effort to tweak the 4th district and ensure a GOP win there. And they're paying attention to rumblings of a Democratic primary challenger for Altmire.
Barletta Blues No Republican plan currently on the table will make Rep. Lou Barletta's Scranton and Wilkes-Barre-based district a sure bet for the freshman Congressman. Barring some radical shift in Tim Holden's 17th district to include the city of Scranton (which is regarded as a distant possibility at this point), Barletta's district will become only slightly more favorable for Republicans and will still contain the city of Scranton.
Democratic Winners GOP plans to secure their districts will come as good news to some Democrats, who's districts are likely to absorb the Democrats that Republicans don't want. Some of those winners include (as of the current plans): Rep. Mark Critz, Rep. Tim Holden, and Rep. Mike Doyle. Each of their districts is likely to get more blue.
2010 Census Details about Pennsylvania and other states are available after the jump courtesy of the Census Bureau as they become available.
The decision last month by Maine's Regional School Unit 13 to shift 8th graders in the town of St. George from the local school to a regional one is reinvigorating calls for an end to prison-based gerrymandering.
Next year, when 8th graders in the Maine town of St. George find themselves attending the 8th and 9th grade school in Thomaston instead of the local school, they'll have prison-based gerrymandering to thank. On January 8, Maine's Regional School Unit 13 decided by a very narrow vote -- over the objections of the representatives from St. George -- to move the 8th grade. The supporters of the school closure prevailed only because the representatives from Thomaston were able to cast additional votes because the town used to contain a prison.
More after the jump
State Representative Babette Josephs has introduced a redistricting reform bill HB 134. However, it does not address prison-based redistricting.
The 2010 Census figures released yesterday show that Washington D.C. now has 601,723 residents whereas the State of Wyoming only has 563,626. In fact, Wyoming has never had as many residents as the District of Columbia.
So why does Wyoming get two Senators and a Congressmen while Americans living our nations capital have no representation in Congress?
Similarly, while Alaska currently has more residents than Washington D.C., it had far less in the census prior to Statehood.
The situation in Puerto Rico is even worse. 3,725,789 Americans live in Puerto Rico, but they do not have a vote in Congress, nor do they have any influence in the November Presidential election.
When I was an American living in France, I had the right to cast an absentee ballot in my state of origin. Does this make any sense? Should an American in France have more rights than American's in our nation's capital, Puerto Rico and the other territories.
An effort to give a single Representative to DC was defeated last year by the introduction of a poison-pill amendment promoted by the NRA.
This year, the House passed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act by a vote of 223-169. However, the Republican minority was able to prevent this bill from coming up for a vote. This act would would have allowed Puerto Ricans to vote on their status and either become a U.S. State, continue as a U.S. Territory, or become an independent country.
If the United States is to be a beacon of Democracy throughout the world, it must allow Americans in D.C. and Puerto Rico the same rights it gives Wyomans, Alaskans and Americans Abroad.
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