Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

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.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

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.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.

The Death of Democracy in the US

— article by State Senator Daylin Leach, reprinted from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice , 2006.

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.

More after the jump.


Current Pa. congressional districts by party.

Though gerrymandering has been a growing problem for centuries, new technology has made it increasingly effective. Let me explain how this works. Say there are two adjacent legislative districts, both of which typically divide their vote evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. When the next redistricting comes around, the party leadership of both parties will make a deal to swap precincts so that instead of two 50-50 districts, the new map will have one district that is 70-30 Republican and the other that is 70-30 Democratic. People still walk to the polls on election day, but everyone knows who will win before the first vote is counted.

Iowa has actually passed similar reform. As a result, four out of five of Iowa’s congressional districts are competitive. That is more competitive districts than there are in Pennsylvania, New York and California combined. That state’s legislative races are similarly competitive.

The powers that be in both parties oppose this bill because it takes power out of their hands. The only way that reform will ever happen is if there is a public outcry demanding it.

PA Supreme Court Accepts Second Legislative Redistricting Plan


Current PA congressional districts by party

— by Kenneth Myers, Esq.

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.

More after the jump.
The federal Constitution requires legislative districts to be rebalanced at least every 10 years in order to achieve population equality (“one man, one vote”). The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that legislative districts be compact and contiguous, and avoid splitting county and municipal boundaries to the extent possible. But in actual fact, our legislative districts split hundreds of counties and municipalities. “Problem” counties, such as the recently-turned-Democratic Montgomery County, are split many times in all directions to dilute their voting power.

In 2011, during the legislative redistricting process, concerned citizen Amanda Holt prepared a redistricting plan with minimum splits on her computer and submitted it to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC). The LRC largely ignored Holt, coming up with its own highly political redistricting maps. Holt and others took the matter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, pointing out that her plan split seven fewer counties, 81 fewer municipalities, and 184 fewer wards than the LRC plan. Although the six sitting members of the court were divided equally between Republicans and Democrats, Chief Justice Castille voted with the Democrats to reject the LRC plan.

The revised plan proposed by the LRC in June 2012 reduced the number of splits, but not to the level of the Holt plan: The LRC plan had 221 splits of municipalities in state House of Representatives districts, compared to 86 in the Holt plan. The LRC plan has 37 splits of municipalities in state Senate districts, compared to 17 in the Holt plan. Holt and a number of other citizens appealed again to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Last week, that court unanimously upheld the revised LRC plan. In a lengthy opinion, the court stated its continued support for the goals of the state constitution, that voting districts be compact, contiguous and conformal to municipal boundaries, but concluded that other considerations such as population equality, historical district lines and even political gain, could be considered by the LRC as well in reaching its conclusion.

Jeff Albert Esq., who litigated against the LRC’s 2001 redistricting plan on behalf of Upper Dublin Township, commented:

In the last four pages of its fifty-eight page decision, the court basically concluded that the constitutional requirement, of avoiding division of political subdivisions to the maximum extent possible, could be modified by political considerations, such as retaining incumbents, so long as the scheme conformed with looser standards of ‘one-man, one-vote’ than had previously been accepted in Pennsylvania, and its divisions of political subdivisions gave better heed to subdivision boundaries than schemes approved in prior years.

Attorney Bonin Briefs JSPAN Board on Redistricting, Voter ID

(JSPAN) Attorney Adam C. Bonin presented an update on Pennsylvania election law to the Jewish Social Policy Action Network‘s Board of Directors at its regular meeting last month. Bonin focused on pending redistricting and voter identification litigation. Both issues are currently before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

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.

More after the jump.
As Bonin explained, both cases involve sensitive legal as well as political questions, complicated by a current vacancy on the Supreme Court and the upcoming November 2014 general election. The lively discussion, aided by the participation of former State Representative (and JSPAN Board Member) Babette Josephs, went into great detail as to the ways in which maps can be tailored towards partisan ends.  

The Harm of Prison Gerrymandering


— by Drew Kukorowski

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.

More after the jump.
There’s only one federal prison in North Carolina. But it’s a big one – FCI Butner just north of Durham in Granville County. In 2010, the Census counted about 4,500 people as residents of the Butner prison complex. But none of those incarcerated people can vote, and the vast majority don’t come from North Carolina, much less from Granville County (e.g., Bernie Madoff). Nonetheless, the Census counts them as residents of Granville County, and the county used those numbers to balance their county commissioner and school board districts during the last round of redistricting.

In the example I found, the people who live near the federal prison in Granville County get twice as much political influence as people who don’t. The Granville County commissioner and school board district – District 3 – with the big federal prison complex is about 50% incarcerated (52.5% to be exact). This is a huge benefit to the actual residents of District 3, but harms the residents of every other district in the county. That’s because the commissioner and school board member from the prison district only have to serve about 4,000 actual constituents. In all the other districts in the county, though, the commissioners and school board members each serve about 8,500 constituents. This means that you have less access to your elected representatives if you don’t live in the prison district. Or to put it another way, every 47 residents of the prison district have as much political power as 100 residents in other districts.

Smaller but still important is the effect of prison gerrymandering on state representative and senatorial districts. Newly drawn NC House District 2 is about 6.7% incarcerated if you take into account the federal and state prisons in Butner (there’s a state prison across the street from the federal prison that has about 1,000 inmates). And the new NC Senate District 20 is about 3% incarcerated. Again, the residents of those districts have more access to their state representatives because those representatives don’t have as many real constituents to serve as the representatives from districts without prisons.

While Granville County didn’t address its prison gerrymandering problem this time around, maybe it will in 2020. After all, there are more than 200 counties and cities around the country with prisons that decided not to use the prison populations when redrawing their district lines. To be fair, Granville County is required to submit its redistricting changes to the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act, and it was concerned that removing its prison population might raise a red flag with the U.S. Department of Justice. But of the 200 counties and cities that avoided prison gerrymandering, about 90 were required to have their plans approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, and all received that approval. Or maybe the North Carolina General Assembly will pass legislation – like Maryland and New York, have – mandating that state and local governments draw election districts based on their real populations. Maybe if Mr. Madoff runs for that school board seat then Granville County will realize that it’s absurd to count prisoners as local residents.

Redistricting Gave Republicans a 7.5% Headstart in House Elections

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!  

Boehner’s House “Mandate”: Gerrymandering a Democratic majority

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?

According to Ezra Klein,  

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.

More after the jump.
The situation is not symmetrical in the few states controlled by the Democrats.

This isn’t as true for Democratic-controlled redistricting, and not just because Democrats ran redistricting in only six states. Democrats are just worse at gerrymandering when they get the chance. While Democrats outperformed their presidential vote in House races in Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, they underperformed in Arkansas and West Virginia.

This suggests that it’s going to be tough for Democrats to make big gains in the House until 2022, when the districts are drawn again following the Census. And for that to happen, they’d have to do quite well in the 2020 state legislature elections.

 

SCOTUS Upholds “No Representation Without Population” Rule

— by Anna Pycior and Peter Wagner

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.

The lawsuit was filed last November, and the civil rights community responded quickly to brief the lower court on the constitutionality of Maryland’s law. In an amicus brief, the Prison Policy Initiative and Dēmos, along with the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland and Somerset County Branch NAACP, and the fNAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund explained the basis and need for the landmark law. The lower court’s opinion, affirmed today, rejected the allegation that the law was somehow dilutive of minority voting rights, finding that the No Representation Without Population Act was an historic Maryland civil rights victory:

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.

More after the jump.
Today’s decision in Fletcher v. Lamone constitutes the most significant court ruling to date on the factual and legal justification for states to reallocate incarcerated persons to their home residences for purposes of redistricting. The ruling upheld today noted that “the Act is intended to ‘correct for the distortional effects of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of their place of incarceration.'” It further noted that

These distortional effects stem from the fact that while the majority of the state’s prisoners come from African-American areas, the state’s prisons are located primarily in the majority white First and Sixth Districts. As a result, residents of districts with prisons are systematically ‘overrepresented’ compared to other districts.

Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census.

The plaintiffs in Fletcher challenged Maryland’s right to correct where incarcerated people are counted for the purpose of drawing congressional districts. “Congressional districts are held to the highest standards to ensure population equality.” said Brenda Wright of Dēmos. “The Court’s decision that Maryland’s law satisfies the strict standards applicable to congressional districts clears the path for other states to pass similar laws at all levels of government.” New York, Delaware and California have already enacted similar legislation, and advocates are calling on the Census Bureau for a national solution. “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner.

Pennsylvania Redistricting Take 2

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.

LRC Press Release After the Jump

Video continues at LRC website.
Legislative Reapportionment Commission Press Release

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, by a majority vote, approved and filed with the Secretary of State a Preliminary Reapportionment Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A copy of the Preliminary Plan is located on the Commission’s website.

In accordance with Article II, Section 17(c), of the Pennsylvania Constitution, all persons aggrieved by the Preliminary Plan must file exceptions with the Commission within thirty days of the April 12, 2012 filing date. All exceptions must be in writing and contain the name of the individual, a signature, mailing address, and daytime telephone number. Individuals who wish to submit an alternative plan with their written exceptions to the Commission are requested to file a paper copy, and, if that alternative plan is prepared using computer software, a copy of the
“shapefile” of that plan. Written exceptions to the Preliminary Plan must be received by the
Commission on or before 5:00 p.m. on May 14, 2012.
Written exceptions submitted in a traditional format may be mailed to: Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Esquire, Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120

Individuals who wish to file written exceptions via email are requested to use “Contact Us” link located at the bottom of the home page of the Pennsylvania Redistricting Website at and, in the first line of the message, type the word “EXCEPTION.”

The exception may thereafter be typed directly into the “Message” box or electronically attached
using the “Message Attachments” box.

A public hearing will also be held on May 2, 2012 at 2:00p.m., in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120 to receive any comments on the Preliminary Plan. Please note that individuals who file written exceptions to the plan and wish to present their exceptions at this hearing shall also make a request to be scheduled for that presentation at the public hearing. Please call (717) 705-6339 for additional information.

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission Strikes Out

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.


Amanda Holt

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.

  • Today, January 26. Nomination petitions can be circulated using the old districts. Signatures dated January 24 or January 25 will still be accepted even if they come from the districts on the rejected LRC plan.
  • Thursday, February 16, last day to file nominating petitions.
  • Thursday, February 23, last day to file objections to nominating petitions.
  • Monday, February 27, last day court may hold hearings on objections to nominating petitions.
  • Friday, March 2, list of candidates for the primary is finalized. This is the last day for the court to rule on objections to nominating petitions, and the last day for candidates to withdraw.