Home Online Work Pa. redistricting work continues – Times News Online

Pa. redistricting work continues – Times News Online


Published December 14. 2021 01:45PM

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State lawmakers are in the process of updating Pennsylvania’s congressional maps to reflect the results of the 2020 U.S. Census.

In recent months, committees representing the house and senate have been collecting input from residents on how they want the map to look. Now, they must draw a map which meets the approval of Gov. Tom Wolf, or the process will end up in the courts like it did in 2018.

“This is the time when the rubber hits the road when it comes to mapping. This is a critical juncture in the process,” said David Thornburgh, President of Draw the Lines PA, an initiative aimed at engaging residents with the redistricting process.

Last week, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee released the first official draft of a new congressional map. The Senate State Government Committee, led by Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, is also finalizing working on its preliminary plan.

On Thursday, the commission will vote on the preliminary maps, which are based on census changes.

States are required to approve new maps for its congressional, state house, and state senate districts every 10 years, to reflect changes in population.

Under federal law, districts must be compact, keep counties and municipalities whole when possible, and not discriminate against racial minorities.

New state House and Senate districts are being created under a separate process led by a bipartisan commission.

Pennsylvania last redrew its congressional districts in 2018. State courts ruled in 2018 that the state’s 2011 map violated the constitution because it unfairly favored Republicans.

Republicans then drew another map, which Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed. The state Supreme Court ended up drawing the map themselves.

Signs point to another contentious redistricting process. The two parties have already split over whether inmates should be counted in the district where they are incarcerated, or their home address.

Republicans and Democrats currently have an even split of the state’s 18 congressional districts. But the new map will have one less district, because Pennsylvania’s share of the national population decreased in the 2020 census.

The preliminary map put out last week by the house committee was created by Amanda Holt, a former Lehigh County Commissioner and an advocate for fair districts.

It keeps Carbon and Schuylkill counties in the 9th Congressional District. Northampton and Lehigh counties would remain in the 7th District. Monroe County would be in the 8th District.

State Rep. Seth Grove, who chairs the committee, said he was proud to introduce a map drawn by a resident, not lawmakers. He praised it for creating compact districts with equal population while keeping townships whole when possible.

“The introduction of this map is a starting point, and we look forward to hearing the thoughts of residents across Pennsylvania about how this map would impact their community and how they are represented in Washington, D.C.,” Grove said.

Draw the Lines said the map meets the requirement that each congressional district has an equal population, but to reach that goal, separates some communities illogically.

State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, said that he is pleased that lawmakers now have a map to discuss. He likes that the map does not split Carbon County, but said it can be improved in other areas.

Heffley said the map should be fair, but shouldn’t eliminate incumbent congressmen’s chances of winning re-election in their redrawn districts.

“The maps are a good starting spot but we have a lot of work to do moving forward. I’m happy that Carbon County is kept intact,” Heffley said.

The Department of State has said a May 17 primary means a Jan. 24 deadline for new maps, to leave enough time so that counties can prepare the documents needed to begin circulating nominating petitions on Feb. 15.

Carol Kuniholm, who chairs the advocacy group Fair Districts PA, said it may already be too late to keep the primary date intact. If not, “something’s going to have to get shortened,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s possible to have it on May 17,” she said. “I do think it’s possible to have it by early to mid June.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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