gerrymandering

Pam and Toby Short with the letter they brought to State Sen. Jake Corman asking him to help pass redistricting reform.
Emily Reddy / WPSU

Redistricting advocates in Centre County are making a last-ditch effort to change how Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are drawn.

It’s a week past an unofficial deadline to keep redistricting reform on track for 2021. That’s when maps will be redrawn.

But a group from “Fair Districts PA—Centre County” went to Senator Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte on Thursday to urge him to keep working. The state constitution says the bill must be passed and advertised in newspapers by August 6.

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

 (Harrisburg) -- Efforts to overhaul the state’s redistricting process are faltering.

Earlier this month, the legislature looked like it might be on track to approve a sweeping plan to establish a citizen’s commission to draw the maps — plus change how Pennsylvania elects judges.

Ashley Oleson, with the League of Women Voters of Maryland, carries signs of the state's districts, before oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamon in front of the Supreme Court, Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The U.S. Supreme Court was expected to make a defining decision on extreme partisan gerrymandering this term. It took up two cases, one from Wisconsin, and the other from Maryland. But, in unanimous decisions, the court avoided the key constitutional question at stake in these cases: How much politics is too much when determining voting districts?

Instead, it ruled on technicalities.

The map of Pennsylvania Congressional districts, released February 19, 2018 by the PA Supreme Court.
PA Supreme Court

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Democratic majority threw out the Republican-drawn map of congressional districts as an unconstitutional gerrymander, Republicans raised talk of impeaching Democratic justices.

Calls for impeachment even came from senior Republican Party officials.

That talk receded, but Republicans have brought forward another plan that could limit the lifespan of the court's Democratic majority: changing the state's constitution to elect appellate court judges in districts, rather than in statewide elections.

Senator Lisa Boscola asks for support for her redistricting bill before the chamber's Appropriations Committee.
Katie Meyer / WITF

After more than a year of on-and-off negotiation, the state Senate has moved a congressional redistricting overhaul to the floor of the full chamber.

However, the compromise measure is expected to undergo significant changes before it heads to the House as soon as next week.

Ashley Oleson, with the League of Women Voters of Maryland, carries signs of the state's districts, before oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamon in front of the Supreme Court, Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

 

This month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver two highly anticipated decisions on cases involving partisan gerrymandering — one from Wisconsin and the other from Maryland.

The central question in both cases is: How much politics is too much when it comes to drawing the boundaries of a voting district?

In the past, the court has said it couldn’t answer that question.

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick in between campaign calls on a recent afternoon. Quick is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the new 9th Congressional District.
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick and two campaign staffers recently set up shop for the afternoon inside a Panera Bread not too far from her home in Palmyra, Lebanon County.

They’d popped open their laptops on the table closest to a fireplace going full blast. That warmth would probably be welcome on most February afternoons, but it was an unseasonable 70 degrees outside.

“I asked them to turn it off, but they can’t,” explained Josh Brady, 23, Quick’s unofficial numbers guy.

So they decided to deal with the extra heat.

From left to right: Diego Uribe, Ben Shaman, Jake Richard, and Quinn Berger evalute Pennsylvania's new congressional district map compared to the 2011 version at the Westtown School in West Chester, Pa.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the days after the Pa. Supreme Court released its new congressional map, students in Jon Kimmel’s 8th grade math class huddled around computers to analyze the changes.

The class has been closely following the twists and turns of a case that could have an impact on the balance of power in Washington D.C.

The new Pennsylvania congressional map.
image: PA Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a new map for the state’s Congressional districts. That means new boundaries for U.S. House districts, including those in central and northern Pennsylvania. WPSU’s Anne Danahy reports that some candidates who were running in the primary are moving ahead, while others say they haven’t decided.

For starters, forget the old numbers for Congressional districts in Pennsylvania. The new map from the state Supreme Court completely shifts those districts around.  

Teacher Jon Kimmel in his classroom at Westtown School in Chester County, Pa.
Avi Wolfman-Arent / Keystone Crossroads

Viewed from a distance, Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania seems like precisely the place you’d expect a conversation on redistricting and gerrymandering. The Quaker private school sits at the juncture of two especially contorted congressional districts — the 6th and 7th — and counts among its core values “peace and justice in community and in the world.”

A map of the 7th congressional district. Gerrymandering has divided the communities of the 7th congressional district in Montgomery and Chester counties. The district incorporates most of Delaware County and portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lanc
Dan Gleiter / PennLive.com

In a full majority opinion released Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the state’s congressional district map deprives voters’ of their right to “free and equal” elections as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Pennsylvania's congressional district map, deemed unconstitutional by the Pa. Supreme Court.
File photo

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has denied the request for a stay on the ruling overturning Pennsylvania’s congressional district map.

Republican lawmakers, who were sued for creating an unconstitutionally gerrymandered congressional map, had turned to the nation’s top court after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s split decision in January.

Governor Tom Wolf and residents attending Tuesday's discussion pose for a group photo in the council chamber of the State College Municipal Building.
Min Xian / WPSU

Governor Tom Wolf visited State College on Tuesday to talk with residents about ways to draw a new congressional map for the state.

Joined by about 100 local residents, a panel of Penn State faculty and students and community leaders, Wolf said the goal is to have a fair map.

State College was the first stop as Wolf makes his way across the state to take input from constituents. 

The state supreme court ruled last week that the current map is unconstitutional and gave the legislature until February 9th to deliver a new map to Wolf.

Pennsylvania's congressional district map, deemed unconstitutional by the Pa. Supreme Court.
File photo

A panel of federal judges upheld the Pennsylvania congressional district map as constitutional in a 2-1 split decision in a Philadelphia court today.

In the case, a group of Pennsylvania voters challenged the state's map claiming it was an illegal partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans over Democrats. They claimed it undermined the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In his majority opinion, Chief Judge D. Brook Smiths wrote: 

The city of Reading has long felt out of place on the U.S. congressional map.
Keystone Crossroads

Reading Mayor Wally Scott, a Democrat, has decided to focus on things he can change without relying on higher levels of government.

“I don’t have any reason to need them for anything,” he said.

So far his priorities have boiled down to four things: trash, parking, water and police.

Advocates for fair districting
Katie Meyer / WITF

In most states, the legislature is in charge of designing congressional and state voting districts.

Pennsylvania isn’t unique in that respect.

But some say the commonwealth is home to some of the nation’s starkest examples of gerrymandering — where the shape of a voting district is manipulated to produce the outcome desired by the party in charge.

County Commissioners and advocates spoke in front of county courthouse in Lock Haven
Min Xian / WPSU

Advocacy group Fair Districts PA announced on Thursday that Clinton County is the first in the state to get all of its municipalities and county commissioners to pass resolutions in support of redistricting reform. The group believes momentum to end gerrymandering is growing.

The resolutions demand a fair way to draw legislative district lines and to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. Twenty-nine municipalities as well as the county commissioners supported reform.

A map of the 7th congressional district. Gerrymandering has divided the communities of the 7th congressional district in Montgomery and Chester counties. The district incorporates most of Delaware County and portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lanc
Dan Gleiter / PennLive.com

What’s it feel like to live along the border of one of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the U.S.?

Just ask Bonnie Marcus and Bill Van Wie, who live at Kendall Crosslands, a picturesque retirement community in Chester County.

“Have you seen what we look like? We’re a joke,” said Marcus, a Democratic poll worker who gathered a group of neighbors at the community center to talk gerrymandering.

“I don’t think there’s a way they can make it worse,” Van Wie chimed in.

Fair District PA volunteer spoke outside Corman's office
Min Xian / WPSU

Fair Districts PA delivered postcards collected from constituents to State Senator Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte on Thursday, urging the Republican majority leader to to pass legislation to reform the redistricting process in Pennsylvania.

About 25 members and supporters of Fair Districts PA gathered in the parking lot outside Corman’s office with over 500 postcards stapled onto a giant board.

“The districting process in Pennsylvania is rigged and we need to stop that,” said Toby Short, a volunteer for the advocacy group.

  

When you have a question about voting, polling places or legislative districts in Centre County, a good place to start is the Elections Office. So, that’s where I began my quest to find the place in the State College area where three state legislative districts come together.

After rolling out a detailed map, Joyce McKinley, director of elections in Centre County, tries to pinpoint the spot.

“The 81st legislative district. It’s surrounded by the 77th and the 171st. That’s Zurich Road and Knob Hill Road, and this is Circleville Road.”

A proposed bill is looking to change how Pennsylvania draws its legislative and congressional districts

The bill’s sponsor, Monroe County Republican David Parker said the measure would cut down on gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is prevalent in Pennsylvania—it’s when legislative maps are drawn to benefit a political party.

Parker said the ultimate results don’t benefit constituents.

“When these districts become so large and kind of snake around and are odd shapes, it’s difficult for them to truly represent everybody in the whole district,” he said.