The Lead

Pa. House Republicans pick citizen map submission as draft congressional plan

By: - December 8, 2021 2:11 pm

A proposed Pa. congressional map drawn by Amanda Holt.

*This story was updated at 4:29 p.m. on 12/8/21 with additional information from state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, Fair Districts PA executive director Carol Kuniholm, and Capital-Star sources, and at 11:50 p.m. 12/8/21 with a draft of the Senate proposal.

House Republicans released a first draft of Pennsylvania’s 17 congressional districts Wednesday afternoon, using a map with just a handful of municipal splits drawn by a redistricting advocate as their preliminary proposal.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, chairperson of the House State Government Committee, which is tasked with redrawing the lines, told the Capital-Star that he was sure the map would change over the course of negotiations with the state Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

The map has to pass both chambers, controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Wolf, a Democrat, to become law.

The proposal was drawn by Amanda Holt, a Lehigh County resident and former Republican county commissioner who has been a frequent advocate for redistricting reform. She brought a successful lawsuit challenging the state’s 2011 legislative lines for unnecessarily splitting counties.

Her map does not split any precincts, and each district has exactly 766,865 people, or the target population for Pennsylvania’s districts after the most recent census, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, an online webpage that allows users to draw their own maps.

“We tried our best to remove politics from the system,” Grove told the Capital-Star.

A hearing on the map is planned for Thursday night; a committee vote on map is planned for Monday morning. A final floor vote on the map could follow as soon as Wednesday, though House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman said the caucus expected that “any map that passed out of the House was available to the public to look at for more than just a few days.”

‘It’s a Rubik’s Cube’: Pa. grapples with competing redistricting priorities

This exact map however, isn’t the only proposal that’ll be available. Senate Democratic spokesperson Brittany Crampsie said that Sens. Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill, and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, would have a press conference next week to share their own bipartisan, negotiated map.

A draft of their map began to circulate among Democratic lawmakers Wednesday evening. It would clear a open district in Philadelphia for Street, while drawing U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2nd District, into a Bucks County-based seat against U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District.

The two, who head the Senate State Government Committee, would then “allow time for public comment” and anticipate a committee vote in January.

The House’s proposal was picked out of 19 “verified statewide maps” submitted to the committee through its online web portal, Grove added in a statement.

Redistricting, explained: What it is, how it works, and how Pa. politicians get to draw their own maps

Just this week, redistricting advocates had complained to WHYY-FM that the portal did not appear to work properly and was not displaying submitted maps. Grove told the Capital-Star he was aware of those issues, but that he was “not aware of anyone not being able to submit a map that did not want to submit a map.”

Carol Kuniholm, executive director of redistricting reform group Fair Districts PA, said this was the first time to her knowledge that a draft map was released before a redistricting vote. It also takes care to avoid splitting municipalities and counties.

Otherwise, the map has “very bad metrics on pretty much everything,” Kuniholm told the Capital-Star.

In particular, she thought the map’s lack of compact districts was a problem, given previous state legal precedent on maps.

“Compactness is right up there with minimizing splits, but the score on compactness is pretty bad

She also criticized the legislature for not publicly releasing their criteria for judging maps earlier to aid citizen maps.

According to Dave’s Redistricting App, seven of the districts lean Republican, five lean Democratic, and five appear competitive.

“In just a modestly good Republican year, this would wipe out Democrats,” Democratic political operative J.J. Abbott observed on Twitter. “But the inverse effect is basically non-existent.”

One Democratic source also noted that as drawn, the map would likely end the reelection chances of vulnerable U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District, and draw U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, into a harder reelection.

Pennsylvania, which currently has 18 congressional seats, is losing one member of the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of the decennial remapping, making the state’s mapping process even more complicated.

The Department of State has said it needs maps by Jan. 24 to allow candidates for office enough time to collect petition for the May 2022 primary, though legal or legislative action could extend this deadline.

If Wolf and the General Assembly can not agree on a map, it would fall to the state Supreme Court to design the boundaries. The high court currently has a 5-2 liberal majority.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.