The Lead

Wolf calls for a compact, proportional congressional map; and he wants to see the Legislature’s notes

By: - November 24, 2021 3:07 pm

Pennsylvania’s current congressional map, as redrawn by the state Supreme Court in 2018.

Gov. Tom Wolf has laid down his guidelines for the state’s yet-to-drawn congressional maps.

Some of his guidelines, developed by a redistricting advisory council made up of six Pennsylvania academics, match regular legal standards, such as making sure districts are equal in population, are contiguous, and limit county and other political subdivision splits.

Others add corollaries to those standards. Maps should “disfavor a district with territory only connected at a narrow single point,” and prioritize compactness “unless dispersion is required to advance another positive districting principle,” the guidelines state.

The guidance also calls for the districts to be “responsive to changing voter preference,” and for the resulting congressional delegation to be divided “proportional to statewide voter preference.”

Wolf also called for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to  “include an explanation of specific decisions, such as the communities of interest and how they were defined and the factors that led to the creation of a majority-minority districts.”

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

“Our commonwealth and our nation were founded on the ideals that voters freely select their own elected leaders, not the opposite way around,” Wolf said in a statement.

Wolf, a Democrat, must sign legislation drawing Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be 17 congressional districts passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. As it has in past cycles, the state is losing a congressional district during this round of decennial remapping.

Wolf and Republicans who control the General Assembly have struggled to reach a consensus in recent years, and the maps represent another set of closely watched and highly consequential negotiations.

As a perennial swing state, the commonwealth’s congressional boundaries will be closely watched ahead of the 2022 midterm election, in which the GOP will be hoping to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Every twist and turn of the coming boundaries could influence the GOP’s prospects next year.

If the two do not come to an agreement, the maps will be drawn by the state Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 liberal majority. 

In 2018, the court drew the state’s current maps after striking down the 2011 map as an unconstitutional gerrymander favoring Republicans, unnecessarily splitting communities to create an artificial partisan outcome.

That 2011 map was moved out of the  Republican Legislature to former GOP Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk in just 12 days, with no public hearings.

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

This redistricting cycle, Wolf’s demand that the legislature lay out its choices in detail will mark a sea change in redistricting, election analyst Ben Forstate told the Capital-Star.

Redistricting is always about competing priorities, and forcing lawmakers on record justifying their choices would increase transparency, he added.

“The map is not coming out of a black box,” Forstate said. “It’s the outcome of hundreds of separate decisions.”

He added that implementing proportional representation in the map would create interesting challenges for the mappers, but was achievable. He pointed to the current map, which currently divides the state into nine districts represented by Republicans, and nine by Democrats.

House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman told the Capital-Star that the lower chamber was already focused on making the redistricting process as transparent as possible. 

Pa. redistricting is poised to be transparent. Will it be fair? Advocates think yes.

The House State Government Committee held 12 hearings across the state to get testimony from citizens on the coming maps, which Gottesman said would be reflected in the chamber’s final product.

Otherwise, Gottesman said, “the main driving factor needs to be its legality. When you start putting in these extra legal factors, you muddy the water to get a legal map.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.