The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has approved a congressional map that adjusts the district boundaries used to elect Pennsylvania’s representatives in the House of Representatives.
Pennsylvania’s new map resulted from the state’s Supreme Court decision regarding a case brought forth by Fair Districts, a nonpartisan company that works to keep legislators from drawing district boundaries in unfair ways that make it likely for their political party to win elections, a process is called gerrymandering.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the congressional district boundaries that were first used in 2012, drawn based on the 2010 national census, were drawn to produce election outcomes that favored Republicans. It also concluded that the previous map was therefore unconstitutional.
After rejecting proposals for new district boundaries from the state legislators and Governor Tom Wolf, the Supreme Court redrew the map. The new map focuses on compactness, grouping counties and municipalities together instead of splitting them up.
“If you’re trying to draw congressional seats in districts, part of your goal should be trying to make it compact,” said Dr. Paul Adams, Associate Professor of Political Science at Pitt-Greensburg. “One of the problems with the old map is that you had these really drawn-out, snake-like, dragon-like features across multiple counties which was designed for one thing only–to produce particular electoral outcomes in favor of one party or the other.”
According to the Washington Post, “Many states require districts to be as compact as possible because it’s one way of ensuring that all the voters in that district have at least one thing in common: geographic proximity.”
While the special election on Mar. 13 between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb did not use the new court-drawn maps, many areas in the state, including parts of Westmoreland County, will be part of different districts for the Pennsylvania primary elections on May 15.
This has the potential to affect voters in Westmoreland County as well as all over the state. As areas that were once part of one district are now in another, voters living in these areas have new representatives for whom they could not vote for. Politicians seeking candidacy for congressional seats or representatives campaigning for reelection also have to account for a new constituency, a body of voters, who will elect them to office.
“That’s complicated on a number of issues,” Dr. Adams said. “It makes it confusing for voters this year, and it makes it confusing for candidates and political parties.”
On the most recent map, Pitt-Greensburg and the surrounding areas of Hempfield Township and parts of Westmoreland County were part of the 18th Congressional District, but the new map has turned those areas into parts of the 14th District.
“Anytime you have a system in which it’s divided into districts, there’s always going to be the possibility of some level of gerrymandering,” Dr. Adams said. “One of the worst-off things is that in three years, we’ll be changing it again.”
The national census in 2020 will provide new population distribution numbers, which means the district boundaries will be redrawn in 2021 to reflect that new information.
According to Dr. Adams, future redistricting will use the formula that the Supreme Court has created. “It should draw them more fairly,” he said.