Redistricting Committee Schedule

Reprinted courtesy of Above Avergage Jane

We’ve seen the proposed districts for the Pennsylvania State House and Senate, including that weird shaped district around Harrisburg.  So far we haven’t seen so much as a line segment of the proposed Congressional Districts.  The bill to accept the new boundaries (HB 5) reads at present like this:

For the purpose of electing representatives of the people of Pennsylvania to serve in the House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, this Commonwealth shall be divided into 18 districts which shall have one Congressman each, as follows:
(1)  The First District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(2)  The Second District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(3)  The Third District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(4)  The Fourth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(5)  The Fifth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(6)  The Sixth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(7)  The Seventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(8)  The Eighth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(9)  The Ninth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(10)  The Tenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(11)  The Eleventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(12)  The Twelfth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(13)  The Thirteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(14)  The Fourteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(15)  The Fifteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(16)  The Sixteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(17)  The Seventeenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(18)  The Eighteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.

Not much information there.  The Senate and House State Government Committees are scheduled to have a joint informational committee meeting on Dec. 12, to discuss redistricting.  There’s another informational meeting scheduled for Dec. 13th.  The House State Government Committee is scheduled to have a voting meeting on Dec. 15th and one of the issues slated for that meeting is redistricting.  Since this is Dec. 7th, a Thursday, and the 12th is a Monday there is very little time for a redistricting map to be released, let alone allow for public comment.
No one even seems to pretend that these district boundaries are drawn with no regard for party or the protection of incumbents.  It’s just impossible to take this seriously as anything other than a political exercise in the worst possible meaning of that phrase.

I do remember that there was an opportunity to make some changes in this process a few years ago and people trying to seize that opportunity were thwarted.  And now those chickens have come home to roost.

Political Power-Play in Harrisburg


— Barry Kauffman, Common Cause PA

The biggest political power-play of the decade is unfolding right now in Harrisburg — and it is, perhaps, the most self-serving and least transparent process of state government. It is known as reapportionment or redistricting.

Every ten years, following the census, each state is required to reconfigure the lines for its congressional and legislative districts, to ensure that everyone has equal representation. For its legislative districts, Pennsylvania establishes a five-person Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), comprised of the top Republicans and Democrats in the state House and Senate, plus a fifth person who serves as chairman. The Pennsylvania State Constitution directs the LRC to ensure that each district has approximately the same number of residents, is compact and contiguous, and keeps counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards intact unless a split is “absolutely necessary”. This is supposed to lead to elections that are fair and competitive.

The reality, however, is much different. Looking at the proposed legislative maps is like a game of “name-that-shape.” Our redistricting system has been contorted into an incumbency protection game that virtually guarantees one party control of each district and the re-election of incumbents. This defies intentions of representative democracy in which elections are to be the citizens’ tool to hold power accountable. By “gerrymandering” legislative districts into bizarre shapes, legislators now cherry-pick their voters instead of voters picking their legislators.

The 2011 poster child for the abuse of voters’ rights to fair elections is manifested in central Pennsylvania’s 15th Senatorial district shown above. Currently, the district encompasses Harrisburg and its suburbs east of the Susquehanna River, plus a small adjacent section of York County. But in an attempt to protect an embattled incumbent Senator, the LRC created a new district that eliminates troublesome Harrisburg constituents. So instead of being contained almost entirely in a compact Dauphin County region, the new 15th district snakes through Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York and Adams counties creating a 150 mile horseshoe that dismantles any sense of community. The plan has been opposed by public officials throughout the five-county gerrymander.

The five-members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission may have a greater impact on the outcome of Pennsylvania’s elections over the next decade than all of the state’s voters combined, because when they “gerry-rig” district borders, they essentially predetermine the probable outcome of most legislative elections for the coming decade.

However, the system can work the way the Constitution intends. One enterprising citizen has proven it (and did so working without the millions of dollars, expensive computer software and dozens of staff available to Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission). Amanda Hoft developed an alternative plan which bests the LRC’s Preliminary Plan by strictly adhering to the constitutionally mandated standards. While one legislative leader proudly crowed that the LRC’s plan for the House splintered only 110 municipalities this year, as opposed to 121 in 2001, the Hoft’s plan broke up only 27 municipalities. On the Senate map, she split only 4 municipalities instead of the 27 fractured in the official plan. By eliminating all political criteria that are intended to build party advantage and safe seats for incumbents, she instead built districts to protect citizens’ interests in competitive elections and government accountability.

Links:

  • Amanda Holt’s oral testimony: transcript and video.
  • Amanda Holt’s Full testimony including maps & illustrations. (Large file may take a couple of minutes to load.)
  • Holt website.
  • Anyone who wishes to show support of Amanda Holt’s proposal may let the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission know through their contact page.

More after the jump.

The documentary film Gerrymandering, opens with the quote from Thomas Pynchon;

“Nothing will create bad history more directly nor more brutally than drawing a line.”

Redistricting is all about drawing lines – lines that can empower citizens and communities, or lines that disable competitive elections and vitiate the will of the people. For 2011, Pennsylvanians must demand a redistricting plan that protects the political power of their communities, and bolsters government accountability through competitive elections – and we must insist that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution’s standards for fair redistricting.

Before our state endures another “Gerry-rigged” redistricting in 2021, we also must reform the system for drawing district lines. California and Iowa have successful systems that could serve as models. Pennsylvanians can have fair and competitive elections that permit them to hold power accountable — but we will have to demand it. If we fail to fix the system, we will continue to be disserved by safe-seat politicians who owe greater loyalty to the funders of their political war-chests than to constituents; and we will continue to be befuddled and angered by the
unintelligible self-serving decisions they make.

Pennsylvanians Take Exception to Partisan Redistricting

Last month the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Committee revealed their partisan state legislative redistricting plan minutes before rubber stamping it in a party line vote.

Concerned citizens across the Commonwealth stated their grievances with the plan by filing “exceptions” as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution. In Harrisburg, on November 23, the Committee heard testimony demonstrating various objections to the redistricting plan.

Article II, Section 16 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution says that State House and Senate districts “shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable” and that “unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”

The failure of released preliminary maps to follow the Pennsylvania Constitution left multiple counties, municipalities, and wards suffering. Amanda Holt explained what went wrong and how the commission can correct this.

no splits of political subdivisions are allowed unless leaving them whole creates a district which violates one of the other constitutional requirements of being compact, contiguous, or of equal population.

Her alternate redistricting plan dramatically reduces the number of counties and townships being split while preserving the compactness, population equality and contiguity of the official LRC plan.

For example, Liz Rogan, President of the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township, explained how her township is being sliced and diced. Since redistricting after the 2000 census, Lower Merion went from being represented by two state representatives to three representatives and now, following the 2010 Census, this proposal will have Lower Merion represented by four House members. However, as shown in Amanda Holt’s plan and as mandated by the Pennsylvania State Constitution, Lower Merion need not and must not be divided into multiple legislative districts.

Liz Rogan’s full remarks follow the jump.

Links:

  • Amanda Holt’s oral testimony: transcript and video.
  • Amanda Holt’s Full testimony including maps & illustrations. (Large file may take a couple of minutes to load.)
  • Holt website.
  • Anyone who wishes to show support of Amanda Holt’s proposal may let the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission know through their contact page.

Testimony before the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission

Good afternoon. I’m Elizabeth Rogan and I serve as the President of the Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County. However, today I am speaking for myself and on behalf of those I represent, as well as those living in Wards 4, 8 and 14, not on behalf of the full Board.

I’m honored to have this opportunity to testify before you today and thank you for your attention and for considering my comments. With all due respect for the time and energy of the individuals who worked to prepare the proposal, I am requesting you reconsider and revise the proposed plan.

It seems appropriate and timely to share a bit about myself to explain why I say I have the utmost respect for you and the individuals who prepared the redistricting plan. By way of background, I’m a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a professional in the field of planning and community development. Prior to taking office as a Commissioner in Lower Merion Township, I served as the Assistant and then the Director of Lower Merion’s Department of Planning & Community Development. But… way back when, in 1982, when I started my career, my very first assignment was to prepare and present a proposed redistricting plan to the City Council in Binghamton, N.Y. Well, that was certainly a real welcome to the grown up world of planning and politics!

And now, almost 30 years later, I find myself presenting testimony to you as a local elected official. Not quite what I envisioned oh so long ago!

So, on to the point of my testimony. Lower Merion is a First Class Township of 24 square miles that is now proposed to be represented not by 2, not by 3, but by 4 different House members. Since redistricting after the 2000 census, Lower Merion went from being represented by 2 state representatives to 3 representatives and now, following the 2010 Census, this proposal will have Lower Merion represented by 4 House members.

The venerable & non-partisan PA League of Women Voters states that redistricting should advance the fundamental purposes of a representative democracy, by giving the people a meaningful choice in electing their representatives, and, by holding government accountable to the people. The district boundaries should meet the following standards – in order of their importance:

  • Protecting the voting rights of minorities.
  • Promoting competitiveness and partisan fairness.
  • Respecting political subdivisions and communities of interest.
  • Encouraging geographical compactness and respecting natural geographic features and
    barriers.

I presume that by now you’re growing weary of hearing “why” it’s important to reapportion the
state’s population in a manner that creates competitive legislative districts. There’s no doubt that you’re committed to ensuring elected representatives are accountable to their constituents. And, theoretically there should be support for creating legislative districts that facilitate candidates having substantive debates and/or competitive races. And, most elected officials support the notion of seeking common ground with their opposition; and believe that bipartisan cooperation leads to better legislative outcomes.

Knowing why it’s important, and having, as my grandmother used to say, the “chutzpa,” to do something about it, are two very different things. Purposefully creating boundaries that meet the League of Women Voter’s standards could jeopardize your seat or that of a trusted colleague’s.

So, over the last two decades, the legislative boundaries created in our Commonwealth have
effectively eliminated competition and brought us to the point where re-election rates now exceed 98%.

Elected officials generally support and value the benefits of a representative democracy. I believe you would fight long and hard against attempts to wrest power from your constituents.

And, as successfully elected representatives, you likely work to actively and effectively represent your constituency. However, as redistricting changes the areas w/in a legislative district, perhaps by including parts of many different municipalities or by including several communities with distinctly different issues and/or interests, is that representative as effective and/or as available to their constituents as another representative whose district is geographically compact and includes constituents with common issues and goals? Do these outlying or minority constituents feel they have equal representation? My concern and point, is, that voters will certainly become more cynical and less interested in government and politics when the outcome of legislative elections continues to be effectively pre-determined.

It appears that the population of each proposed legislative district is between 61,000 and 64,000 people. Lower Merion, as a whole, is nearly that size, w/a 2010 population of 58,740; yet the current proposal divvies up the community and requires it to be represented by 4 House members. The need for any division is even more questionable when one considers that Narberth Borough, with a 2010 population of 4,282, is completely surrounded by Lower Merion Township, so, taken together, the population of both jurisdictions falls right within the average size of the proposed legislative districts.

If you refer to the display board, you will see that each representative will be faced w/the challenge of equally representing a diverse population, living in very different communities.

  • As proposed, the 194th District includes the northeast corner of Lower Merion in Montgomery County, and various parts of Philadelphia County, including for example, Roxborough, Manayunk, Germantown and East Falls.
  • The 166th District would include 2 Counties; a fraction of Montgomery County, that being the southeast corner of Lower Merion
    Township. The remainder of the District is in Delaware County and includes small areas of Upper Darby, Marple and Radnor Townships, all most all of Haverford Township and a small section of Marple.

The 148th & 149th Districts are all within Montgomery County, but the state representatives would have to coordinate with and represent the varied interests of and residents in many separate jurisdictions.

  • The 148th District includes 7 jurisdictions, the middle section of Lower Merion; all of Whitemarsh Township, Ambler, Narberth & Conshohocken Boroughs, more than half of Whitpain Township and two precincts in Plymouth Township.
  • The 149th District includes 5 different municipalities; a long, narrow band of Lower Merion along the Delaware County line; all of Upper Merion Township, West Conshohocken & Bridgeport Boroughs; and a very small section of West Norton Township.

Certainly some may argue that having more representatives is advantageous, but as a professional planner, and someone who is committed to and believes in our American ideal of democracy, I ask you to resist the “status quo.” Please, rethink this proposal and revise it to create more geographically compact districts. Districts that respect political subdivisions, promote competitiveness and that protect the voting rights of minorities.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Details Sought On Secret Congressional Redistricting Map


— Barbara Grill

State Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., said she is discouraged that House State Government Committee members are being asked to vote next week on Congressional redistricting legislation (H.B. 5) because it fails to list any specific geographic information of how the Congressional districts will be composed and the public has not been given the chance to comment on it.

Josephs is the Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee. Committee members were informed yesterday they would be voting on the bill Monday. She immediately wrote to her Republican counterpart on the committee, state Rep. Darryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, asking for a more transparent process, as well as the complete details.

Josephs wrote to Metcalfe:  

Earlier this year you and Senator McIlhinney held three hearings across the state in which you congratulated yourself for how open, transparent and inclusive Congressional reapportionment would be accomplished in this legislative session. If you were serious about openness, transparency and inclusiveness, wouldn’t it be wise to share the details of the plan including maps well in advance of a voting meeting and to gather public comment from interested parties and community leaders in no less than three public hearings?

Earlier today Metcalfe canceled Monday’s meeting but rescheduled it for Wednesday, Dec. 7. Josephs said she assumes an amendment that provides the details she seeks still will be brought out at the last minute, like most of the legislation brought forward by the House Republican majority this session.

More after the jump.

Josephs said:

The kicks and punches to democracy just keep on coming from Chairman Metcalfe and Republican Leader Mike Turzai. First, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission approves a preposterous preliminary reapportionment plan for state House and Senate districts that has been criticized across the state. Now, they’ll push through a Congressional map that the public will have little to no time to examine or provide input on how it will affect their communities. This is not democracy. It is dictatorship.

Josephs introduced legislation that would require openness and fairness in the redistricting process. Her bill  (H.B. 134) was referred to the House State Government Committee more than nine months ago but Metcalfe has not allowed it to be brought up for discussion, let alone a vote.  

Specifically, Josephs’ bill would:

  • Permit any Pennsylvania resident to submit reapportionment plans for legislative districts, which the commission would be required to consider. The commission would make software and demographic data available for use in developing such plans.
  • Require the commission to hold public hearings to solicit public testimony from as many Commonwealth residents as possible. Five hearings would be held in different geographic regions of the state before the preliminary plan is developed and again before the final plan is voted on.
  • Require the commission to set up a website for the data, the actual maps, hearing and meeting notices and transcripts and other communications.
  • Require the commission to comply with the Sunshine Act and the Right-to-Know Law.

Josephs said,  

My bill gives the public more of a vested interest in how legislative districts are drawn. The actions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission these past several weeks, the inaction of Mr. Metcalfe on my legislation and this Congressional map shrouded in secrecy make clear the Republican majority is not interested in a transparent and open process. They should be ashamed.

Josephs noted Metcalfe has yet to advance a single Democratic bill, while she, when she was majority chairwoman, advanced 28 Republican bills.

Breaking News: Pennsylvania Redistricting Approved by LRC

The Republican majority Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Committee voted yesterday to approve a highly partisan preliminary redistricting plan. (Video available).

In a classic bait and switch, the commission’s Republican majority a redistricting plan that ignores the good faith negotiations of the previous months and is designed only to strengthen a GOP stronghold in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) argued the map is unfair for the people of Pennsylvania, politically motivated and shows a lack of respect for the constitution.

For the first time, this morning we have seen the map the House Republican have proposed that bears very little resemblance to the negotiations that took place over the last several months, makes changes to decisions which we thought were made as late as last Friday night, and although we would like to participate here today and vote yes for this plan, we also believe the people of Pennsylvania have the right to expect us to behave in a fair and equitable manner, and produce districts which are reflective of their wishes and the population. Right now we have a highly partisan plan offered by the House Republicans that does not do well and honor the people of Pennsylvania. We [Democrats] have a plan here which we are going to offer which complies with the Constitution of Pennsylvania, and complies with the Voting Rights Act, and deals with political fairness. There is no such thing as political fairness in the [short] length of time we have had to observe the Republican plan. And Mr. Chairman [Judge Stephen J. McEven (R)] I would ask, seeing as we have had just 10 minutes or half an hour rather to look at this. If we want to negotiate a plan that is fair, out of fairness, I would request more time to review this plan. We actually have several days into November in order to comply with the law on presenting a preliminary plan, but as it stands right now I certainly can not vote for [this plan], and would request the opportunity to study this plan more diligently and more carefully, other than this half-hour we just had. And I would like the opportunity with honesy and fairness to negotiate a fair plan for all of us.

Pennsylvania State Senate: Interactive Online Google Map, KML File, ESRI Shapefile, PDF File, Text.
Pennsylvania State House: Interactive Online Google Map, KML File, ESRI Shapefile, PDF File, Text.

Anyone who objects to this preliminary plan should file their objection in writing by November 30 to Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. A public hearing will be held on Friday, November 18, 2011 at 12 noon in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburgh, PA 17120. Please call O’Connor at 717/705-6339 for additional information.

Electoral vote: Our state has historic opportunity

Pennsylvania has the chance to join an initiative to establish the popular vote for the presidency. Why play games with the electoral vote?

Bruce Ticker testified to the Pennsylvania State Government Committees arguing against the Republican attempt to re-engineer Pennsylvania’s electoral vote in their favor. His solution for a fairer Presidential election?
The National Popular Vote.

Written testimony follows the jump.
The Hon. Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature:

I love the United States. I feel so very lucky to have been born in this country. The Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and was subsequently ratified by the 13 states. Congress formally convened in March 1789 and George Washington was inaugurated as our first President on April 30, 1789.

The Constitution is a great document that has served as the foundation for our governing process. It nonetheless contains serious flaws.

I have long been concerned about the system for choosing a President as authorized by the Constitution. Why do I phrase it that way? Yes, it’s a mouthful. Wouldn’t it be simpler to call it the presidential election? This process is not an election.

Your proposal to seek an alternative to the winner-takes-all method has its merits and drawbacks. However, any process administered in the framework of the Electoral College is inequitable and insults the intelligence of the average voter.

There is only one fair and just means of selecting the people who run our government – the direct vote. Every time each of you runs for office, you trust the judgment of your constituents. You accept that. Otherwise, you would not remain part of the system.

The direct vote must also be the means for choosing our Presidents. Especially, successful presidential candidates have assumed the Presidency four times without winning the popular vote. The last time this occurred was only 11 years ago.

I respectfully request that you abandon this course and direct your energies and resources to replace the electoral college with the popular vote. I confess that until recently I thought we had only one avenue available – the amendment process. Any amendment approved by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the 50 states. Theoretically, 14 million citizens can block an amendment. That is the collective population of the 13 or 14 least populous states. Our current population is estimated at 308 million people.

The amendment process is an arduous obstacle course.

To my delight, I learned that Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed legislation on Aug. 8, 2011, to participate in an initiative which would effectively sideline the electoral vote without struggling through the amendment process.

This initiative, called the National Popular Vote, has been lobbying officials in the 50 states to agree to an interstate compact. Each state would agree to release its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the vote nationwide.

To succeed, this system requires the participation of states with a combined 270 electoral votes, the majority currently required for a candidate to win.

Gov. Brown’s signature added 55 electoral votes to the initiative, the largest collection of votes from America’s most populous state. This step raised the total from 77 to 132 votes.

You now have an historic opportunity to build on the foundation of our system, the Constitution. You can contribute to providing the United States with the direct vote for President. You can start the process now to consider participating in this initiative.

Pennsylvania would add 20 electoral votes. The popular vote would provide all of us with a direct measure of power in selecting our president. It would expand upon our freedoms and enliven the political process.

The framers of our Constitution did not create the electoral system in a vacuum. Historians cite a number of interrelated factors. Among them, communications were sparse. No e-mails, no Action News, newspapers were just starting to evolve. The average citizen had no realistic means of being informed of the qualifications of the candidates.

Because of our technological advances and the range of today’s news media, voters today can readily access the qualifications of the presidential candidates. For that matter, we often get too much information about them.

It is hardly news to you that the majority party has been accused of proposing this plan to obtain political advantage. Practically speaking, the popular vote will likely benefit Democrats because Democratic-leaning voters are clustered more in metropolitan areas, and Republicans tend to be scattered more in the suburbs and rural areas. For the record, I am a registered Democrat.

My prime concern is good government in order to better serve the public. The popular vote can only facilitate good government. I can think of reforms that Democratic Party leaders may not be anxious to embrace.

Again, I ask you to abandon this proposal for awarding electoral votes. Forgive the cliché, but that plan accomplishes nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs. Please focus your attention on ending the impact of the electoral college.

Thank you for your attention.

Bruce S. Ticker

 

Republicans In Harrisburg Trying To Run Out The Clock for Redistricting

If politics were sports, someone would call a delay of game penalty on the Republicans for illegally trying to run out the clock while they are ahead.

What is happening?

Every ten years, the United States takes a census of its population, and the states must then redraw their Congressional and State Legislative Districts to take into account shifts in population over the last ten years. Since politicians are drawing their own districts, this process is rife with conflicts of interest as politicians choose their constituents most likely to reelect them into office.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have a clear advantage in the redistricting process since they control the governorship, both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court. The only limits on their power is recourse to courts by groups disenfranchised via violations to the Federal Voting Rights Act. However, the GOP seeks to close this window of opportunity.

Paragraph (c) of Section 17 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution lays out the calendar for how redistricting is supposed to work:

No later than ninety days after either the commission has been duly certified or the population data for the Commonwealth as determined by the Federal decennial census are available, whichever is later in time, the commission shall file a preliminary reapportionment plan with such elections officer. The commission shall have thirty days after filling the preliminary plan to make corrections in the plan. Any person aggrieved by the preliminary plan shall have the same thirty-day period to file exceptions with the commission in which case the commission shall thirty days after the date the exceptions were filled to prepare and file with such elections officer a revised reapportionment plan. If no exceptions are filled within thirty days, or if filed and acted upon, the commission’s plan shall be final and have the force of law.

The Census Bureau released the data for Pennsylvania on March 11, but the Legislative Reapportionment Commission delayed choosing their 5th and final member until the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and named Judge Stephen McEwen (R) on April 19.

According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution:

  • the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18.
  • There would then be 30 days for “corrections” and hearings, leading a final plan by August 17.
  • Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by September 16.

This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year’s elections.

However, the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission have their own unique calendar. According to them, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. Last Wednesday, August 17, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission held its first public meeting and they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania, and declare that this would start the 90-day clock.

By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans have bought themselves four months of time, instead of being already beyond the deadline, they can “deliberate” until November 15. They can then issue “corrections” and hold “hearings” until December 15. In theory, the citizens of Pennsylvania can then file any appeals in hopes of restoring their right to equitable representation. However, in practice the courts will have their back against the wall as candidates are already starting their campaigns including preparing the petitions (due February 14, 2012) to qualify for the April primary.

The Republican legislators hope to carve Pennsylvania in districts according to their political calculus, and run out the clock to avoid any potential challenges to their fait accompli.

More after the jump.
Why doesn’t the Democratic Minority raise a hue and cry about this outrage? Perhaps they are afraid to make waves and ended up being excised from the district which they represent. Or perhaps they are content to see the Republicans districts being fortified, knowing that all those unwanted Democratic voters will end up getting tossed into Democratic districts. The Pennsylvania citizen is the real loser here since redistricting is being used as a tool to protect incumbants. As a result less incumbants than necessary will have to worry about their reelection, and some politicians may be less responsive to their constituents as a result.

What can be done about this?

Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Wisconsin

–by Peter Wagner

This article was prepared on Monday. On Wednesday, the Assembly passed the plan and it is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

The Wisconsin legislature is rushing through a redistricting plan so they can lock in the maps before the scheduled recall elections can change who has the power to draw district lines. In that rush, prison-based gerrymandering is poised to have an even greater impact on state, county and municipal districts than it did a decade ago.

The Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they can’t vote and remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. Crediting thousands of people to other communities has staggering implications for Wisconsin’s democracy, which uses the Census to apportion political power on the basis of equally-sized state and county legislative districts.

Wisconsin’s 53rd Assembly district has the highest concentration of prisons in the state. The 53rd District claims 5,583 incarcerated people as residents of the district, even though state law says that incarcerated people remain residents of their homes. All districts send some people to prison, although some districts some districts send more than others. But not all districts have prisons, and concentrating 23,000 prisoners in a handful of districts enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts and dilutes all votes cast elsewhere.

More after the jump.
In Wisconsin, this impact is largest in District 53, where without using prison populations as padding, the district would be 10% below the required size. This gives every 90 residents of the 53rd district the same influence as 100 residents of any other district in the state.

If that seems insignificant, consider that the Supreme Court allows districts to have populations that are 5% too large or small if the state can protect some other legitimate state interest by doing so. The federal judges who have for decades drawn Wisconsin’s state legislative districts have had an even higher standard, allowing only a 1% deviation from strict population equality. The Republican majority of the legislature which drew the new districts took an even higher standard in the Assembly, drawing districts that are, by Census counts, no more than 0.4% too large or small.

The state’s efforts to carefully draw districts that give each district the same population and the same political influence is clearly overshadowed by the decision to use the Census Bureau’s data that credited incarcerated people to the wrong location when drawing districts, and created one of the most distorted state legislative districts in the county. The systematic bias introduced by drawing districts based on Census Bureau prison counts becomes clear when you look in detail at District 53:

District 53 purports to have a large African-American population, larger than 74 other districts. But of the 2,784 African-Americans in the district, all but 590 are incarcerated. The day the people incarcerated in the district are allowed to vote again, they will be on a bus, heading back to their home district. The 53rd District is claiming populations that are not a part of this district and never will be.

The state Assembly is not the only part of Wisconsin to raise the ante on prison-based gerrymandering and draw districts more distorted than they did a decade ago. In our previous research, we found some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country in Wisconsin cities and counties. With two notable exceptions, counties appear to have been unable or unwilling to find a solution to competing state laws that indirectly require them to use the unadjusted Census numbers and engage in prison-based gerrymandering.

The two exceptions are Dodge County, and the City of Waupun. These communities did something clever: they split each large prison between 2 or 3 neighboring districts. Those districts still get credited with an incarcerated population that actually resides somewhere else, but the size of the vote enhancement in any individual district is smaller. And by extension, this reduces the extent to which votes are diluted in other Dodge County or City of Waupun districts.

With Dodge County and the City of Waupun finding solutions, albeit partial ones, the mantle for the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering is likely going to fall to Chippewa, Juneau, and Waushara counties, all of which saw new prisons built or expanded over the last decade, and all of which appear to be drawing individual county districts that are more than 50% incarcerated. In each of these counties, if you live next to the prisons, you’ll get twice the influence over the future of our county as residents who live elsewhere. That’s not fair. It likely violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal representation, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense.

We concede — when fairness and logic aren’t enough to avoid prison-based gerrymandering — that it is technically possible to draw a district that is half incarcerated. One town in Iowa had a district that was 96% incarcerated, until citizens intervened. So what are we watching for at the Prison Policy Initiative headquarters? We’re waiting to see how the cities of New Lisbon and Stanley draw their city districts. There, unless they take action, they’ll be faced with drawing districts that are more than 100% incarcerated. This impossibility could produce some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country. Will those cities follow the state legislature’s blind rush into prison-based gerrymandering and end up drawing one or more City Council districts with no voters? Stay tuned.

Wisconsin cities and counties where relying on the Census for redistricting creates serious problems for democracy after the 2000 Census. (We also looked at Oshkosh City in Winnebago Co., Fond du Lac City in Fond Du Lac Co., Allouez Village in Brown Co., and Sturtevant Village in Racine Co., but these cities and villages are not affected because their local government is elected at large rather than from districts. Marquette County’s districts were not affected by the prisoner miscount because the county and state concluded that the census erred in placing the Federal Oxford prison in Marquette, when it is actually located in Adams County.) This table is updated from Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin with the downsized districts in Fond du Lac County.

County District Percent of district’s population that is in prison Resulting Vote Distortion
Adams 5 & 6 64% 9 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Brown 14 22% 39 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Columbia 8 47% 27 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dane 33 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dodge 29 53% 47 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 31 59% 41 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 35 10% 9 votes here = 10 elsewhere
Dodge 8 54% 23 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Fond du Lac 18 18% 82 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Jackson 10, 11, 12 and 19 24% 19 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Racine 13 17% 83 votes here =  100 elsewhere
Sheboygan  22 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Sheboygan  32 25% 3 votes here = 4 elsewhere
Winnebago  12 42% 58 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Winnebago  30 16% 21 votes here = 25 elsewhere
City District
Fitchburg City 4 14% 43 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Franklin City 1 38% 31 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Waupun City 2 63% 37 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Waupun City 3 79% 21 votes here = 100 elsewhere

Is it 2012 Already? PA-6 Re-Districting and Rematches

Cross-posted from Democratic Convention Watch

While Pennsylvania limps along with the redistricting process, it looks like the same names who ran in PA-6 last year will likely do it again next year. In 2010, there was a bitter Democratic primary between Doug Pike and Manan Trivedi. Manan won by 714 votes, and went on to lost to Jim Gerlach by 14 points. Manan has already started raising money (he sent a letter), and Doug is leaning towards running (I asked him).

Can both of them run against Jim? Maybe. The 6th district was created in 2001 FOR Jim Gerlach. Back in March, I posted on the current map, the census data, and the likelihood that the sole PA district that wouldn't change is Bob Brady's district, as no one messes with Bob Brady. You'd think the state would have made some progress since then, but this is Pennsylvania. The redistricting committee is always made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a chair selected by the four. As usual, they couldn't agree, so it went to court. The committee, with its court-appointed chair, is supposed to come up with a plan by 11 August. 

As of this writing, the most likely outcome is that Mark Critz's district (Murtha's old district) will be the one to go away. From a census perspective, it's the most reasonable. This redraw will pit Jason Altmire (CD 4) and Mark Critz (CD 12) in a primary. The GOP committee (and it is) will try hard to also force Allyson Schwartz (CD 13) and Chaka Fattah (CD 2) into a primary. However, it's likely that Tim Holden's area (CD 17) will grow to include Scranton, and become a more safe Democratic seat. This in turn will shore up the Republican pockets Lou Barletta (CD 11) needs. 

Meanwhile, the GOP wants badly to increase their holds of the 6th and 7th. The 7th was Joe Sestak's, but is now Pat Meehan's. I haven't heard that Joe is thinking of running again. The eastern parts of these districts would have to move to force the Schwartz-Fattah primary. If the 6th moves north, and the 7th moves west, Manan would be in the 6th (he lives in Birdsboro). Jim would be in the 6th (West Pikeland), but Doug may well be in the 6th, as he lives in Tredyffrin (which was part of the 7th until 2001). So a primary re-match is a maybe, but Jim will certainly be challenged. If you're having trouble with what's where, click on the map to see a larger version. It's hard, I know, as some of the numbers are across the state from one another. 

We'll have to wait a while to find out where Manan and Doug will run, and it would be great if they could run without having to re-fight that primary, which was ugly. Both are solid candidates, and without having to spend time, money and resources on a primary would have a good shot against both Jim and Pat. There is a lot of animosity against both of the incumbents from long term Republicans who feel that they, especially Jim since he's been there longer, have abandoned Republican ideals for their sell-out to the teabaggers. Thus, Democrats running on what will likely be a bring back Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid platform will perform well. Remember, demographics in this area skew old.

I'll be back with a more detailed look after the districts are drawn next month. 

Phil. Jewish Voice Testifies at Joint House-Senate Redistricting Hearing

Testimony on Congressional Redistricting Given at Joint Hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Committee and State House Committee on State Government

Honorable Chairmen and members of the committees, thank you for holding these hearings and for inviting me to speak to you today. Holding hearings like this is an important first step in including the public in this crucial part of our democratic process.

Public oversight is a crucial part of the checks and balances necessary to ensure that redistricting process is not abused to advantage any political party, protect incumbents, or punish political rivals. Democracy requires competitive elections and representative government.


In a democracy, voters choose their representative to protect the common interest. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to a system of gerrymandering which turns democracy upside-down so that it is politicians who choose their voters strategically in order to advance their personal interests rather than the other way around.Packing the voters into a small number of districts in order to isolate them. (Figure 3) Cracking voters across multiple districts in order to dilute them. (Figure 4) And counting convicts where they are imprisoned rather than where they usually live. In a state like Pennsylvania where the process is totally controlled by a single political party, there may be a temptation to engage in partisan gerrymandering unless the media and the public are vigilant in their oversight.


Even when Democratic and Republican politicians share power, there is a possibility of mutually agreeable “sweetheart” gerrymandering as Democrats and Republicans engage in unseemly exchanges of constituents with the Democrat legislator offering up his Republican voters in exchange for his Republican colleague’s Democratic voters. (Figure 2)

In order to encourage public participation in the redistricting process, the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and its partners – the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Common Cause Pennsylvania – hope to run a Redistricting Content similar to those run in Virginia and Ohio and being run in Michigan, Arizona and Massachusetts.

The idea is to make Azavea’s DistrictBuilder, Redistricting Software, and the underlying geographic, demographic and electoral data available freely on the Internet.  We now have the technology to allow everyone to have a say in the redistricting process.

The Pennsylvania Redistricting Contest will be judged by impartial numerical criteria measuring:
equality, continuity, integrity, competitiveness, proportionality and compactness.

  1. Equality. The principal of one-man, one-vote is enshrined in the Voting Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Constitution. We will not allow districts to deviate from their ideal population range and we will reward plans which promote higher standards of equality. Furthermore, we will require that majority-minority districts be maintained as required by the Voting Rights Act.
  2. Contiguity. Each district must be contiguous and not contain any parts which are connected to the other parts at a single point.
  3. Integrity. The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits legislative districts which divide any “county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward…unless absolutely necessary.” By minimizing splits, voters understand easily who their representative is, and township and county officials do not have to interface with as many legislators. Our contest will penalize redistricting plans which unnecessarily divide these communities of interest.
  4. Competitiveness. Gerrymandering undermines the democratic process by creating uncompetitive districts. When 90% of an incumbent’s constituents belong to his political party, the incumbent is guaranteed reelection and no longer has any incentive to be responsive to the needs of his constituents. Non-competitive districts make everyone’s vote irrelevant and reduce accountability. Our contest will penalize plans which create these sorts of lopsided districts.
  5. Proportionality. The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to deliver a disproportionate share of the representation of the state into the hands of the political party controlling the redistricting process. In Pennsylvania, there are over 4 registered Democrats for every 3 registered Republicans, yet,Democrats only hold 37% of the Congressional delegation, 40% of the  State Senate, and 45% seats in the State House.

  6. Compactness. Bizarre shaped districts are a tell-tale sign that a map-makers is up to no good extending tentacles out of a district of their supporters to encompass his residence, or excising a community of opponents in order to secure his reelection. Our contest classify districts whose perimeter is disproportionately long compared to its area, and penalize redistricting plans accordingly.

Our hope is that the State Government Committees, Legislative Reapportionment Commission, and independent groups interested in political reform will support this initiative and help us make the DistrictBuilder software available to the general public.

Making tools like these available to the public as Florida and Alaska has value even in the absence of a contest.

However, we look forward to determining the best plan and promulgating it as an unbiased baseline against which the legislature’s plans can be compared.

More after the jump.
Thank you for your time. If you would like more details on our proposal and on the results of the Redistricting Contests held or being held in other states, please email me at [email protected]

Appendices

1. Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition Rules and Procedures

2. Feedback from Virginia contest (Prof. Michael McDonald, George Mason University)

These winning student competition plans had an effect on the policy discourse. All three of the winning plans following the governor’s criteria were introduced a bills in the state legislature, and all students and faculty were recognized by the legislature and the governor. A winning congressional plan following the governor’s criteria draw by a team of William and Mary law school students became the basis of a plan adopted by the governor’s commission. This congressional plan was notable in that it reconfigured the state’s only voting rights district in such a way that made it substantially more compact, and thus enabled districts throughout the state to significantly improve their compactness. The concept of reconfiguring the voting rights district was implemented in a plan championed by the legislative black caucus,  which further created an African-American influence district in the Hampton Roads area. This was the plan adopted by the Democratically controlled Senate.

   Voting rights issues were also explored in the state legislative plans. Many students attempted to draw a Hispanic majority voting-age population district, but none were successful. A winning University of Virginia team Senate plan created six African-American majority voting-age
population districts, where the current plan only had five. However, these districts were barely above 50%, which was significantly below the percentages that received Department of Justice preclearance under Section 5 the previous decade. The governor’s commission explored if it was possible to increase the African-American voting age populations of these districts, but did not find it was possible to do so greatly. Although it was not part of the student competition, a House of Delegates plan drawn by Dr. McDonald for the commission demonstrated it is possible to draw thirteen African-American majority voting-age population districts, whereas the plans
adopted by the legislature only had twelve. This thirteenth district was discovered in the course of drawing districts that were compact and respected existing political boundaries, in accordance to the governor’s criteria.

   These plans provide evidence that greater public participation enables fresh approaches to drawing redistricting plans that may have otherwise gone undiscovered. Redistricting is an extremely complex problem. In a modestly sized state, there are more solutions than there are quarks in the universe (Altman and McDonald 2010). More eyes on the problem means more
opportunities to see new solutions. These plans illuminated paths to improve racial representation, thereby demonstrating that reformers’ goals may not necessarily be at odds with the voting rights community. We explore trade-offs among the competition criteria further in our analysis of the student competition, commission, and legislative plans.