Pennsylvania court releases new voting map

by Abel Hampton February 21, 2018, 0:31
Pennsylvania court releases new voting map

The state Supreme Court's new map of congressional districts places Mercer County and most of the old 3rd District into the new 16th District that hugs the OH border from Erie to Lawrence counties and includes the western half of Butler County.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the state's new congressional map on Monday, and if it stands, Centre County is in for a change starting with the May primary.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled last month in a party line decision that the district boundaries unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria, such as keeping districts compact and eliminating municipal and county divisions.

As Technician columnist Kevin Moye has discussed previously, North Carolina's congressional districts have been challenged and overturned for being racially gerrymandered.

The court's order doesn't offer an explanation for why the districts were renumbered. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would have won the remaining eight districts under the new map, though one district is so close as to be essentially a toss-up.

Democrats have more registered voters in Pennsylvania than Republicans do.

"Over the last month, I have personally heard from thousands of Pennsylvanians and they are sick and exhausted of gerrymandering, which perpetuates gridlock, alienates citizens and stifles reform", Wolf said. "Our choice was clear".

Top statehouse Republicans have pledged to challenge the judicially enacted map, which they say amounts to overreach by the Democratic-majority court.

In striking down that map last month as unconstitutional, the justices said the new districts should be as compact and contiguous as possible. "We anticipate further action in federal court", the statement said.

"This entire exercise, while cloaked in 'litigation, ' is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander - one brought about by the Democrat governor acting in concert with liberal politically-connected litigants", the two Republicans said.

"Over the last month, I have personally heard from thousands of Pennsylvanians and they are sick and exhausted of gerrymandering, which perpetuates gridlock, alienates citizens and stifles reform", Wolf said in a statement. The Court's order and remedial plan has restored Pennsylvania voters' right to choose their congressional representatives in free and equal elections in 2018.

Independent analysts say Pennsylvania's new court-ordered map of congressional districts should improve Democratic prospects but the map still favors Republicans as a whole.

The new plan is due to lead to a dramatic shakeup in an election year that was already poised to be extraordinarily competitive, thanks to a spate of open seats. Under that calendar, the nomination petition period runs from February 27 through March 20.

The southeastern part of the county, including State College and the Penns Valley area, will move to the 12th district.

In all, there more than 80 candidates in the state's 18 districts, according to FEC filings.

The new map means that Democrats can expect to compete in the majority of the 18 congressional races in November, with experts generally concurring that they could pick up more than ten seats. It ordered a new map drawn before primary elections on May 15. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 18 voters and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.

The Supreme Court is using the population figure 705,688 as the size of each district.

"This Court recognized that the primary responsibility for drawing congressional districts rested squarely with the legislature, but we also acknowledged that, in the eventuality of the General Assembly not submitting a plan to the Governor, or the Governor not approving the General Assembly's plan within the time specified, it would fall to this Court expeditiously to adopt a plan based upon the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court", the per curiam order reads, adding that drawing a map is "a role which our Court has full constitutional authority and responsibility to assume".

Wolf applauded the court on its map Monday, saying his office would work expeditiously to update Department of State systems and ensure all processes are in place to assist candidates. Delaware County candidates previously planning to run in what was the 7th or 1st District will now have an opportunity to run in the 5th, Landau said, though he suspected even more candidates - including some from Philadelphia - could enter the race. Only 13 counties are split in the new plan, and Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties are each entirely within a single district.

"They created a map that looks fair and competitive", Sims said.

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