We Need Your Help To Slay The Gerrymander

— by Lora Lavin, Representative Government Specialist, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice need your help to launch to redistricting contest. The contest would set a fair baseline by which politician-drawn maps could be measured.

  • Left unchecked: politicians choose their voters instead of letting voters select their representatives.
  • Gerrymandering is the equivalent of rigging elections to get a predetermined outcome.
  • We believe some good old-fashioned competition can keep politicians honest.

The biggest political power-play of the decade is about to get underway in Pennsylvania.   It is, perhaps, the most  self-serving and least transparent process of state and local government.  It’s called redistricting.  The outcome will determine the shape of representative democracy in Pennsylvania for the next decade.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing congressional, legislative, and local government representatives’ district boundaries so that each district has approximately the same number of people.  The goal is to ensure communities have an equal voice in Congress, state legislatures and city and township councils.  

But the politicians don’t see it that way.  In Pennsylvania and most other states, district lines are drawn by the very lawmakers whose political careers will be affected by the changes.  For them, redistricting is an opportunity to consolidate political power and ensure their reelection prospects.  For example, Philadelphia’s 172nd House District was transformed during the previous redistricting in order to guarantee the reelection of a powerful legislator.  It was only after a political scandal that he was eventually defeated last year.

Modern technology makes this kind of extreme gerrymandering possible.  Using expensive and sophisticated software, politicians can select their voters block by block and even house by house.  The tools they use are “proprietary” meaning access is limited to those with the ability to pay lots of money.  But now, a Philadelphia based software firm, Azavea, in partnership with a political science professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has developed DistrictBuilder. This relatively inexpensive open-source redistricting tool can be used by ordinary citizens to draw district maps and bring elections back into the hands of the people.  

To see how Profs. Michael McDonald (George Mason Univ., Brooking Inst.) and Micah Altman (Harvard, Brookings Inst.) used DistrictBuilder to run Virginia’s redistricting contest, visit the Public Mapping Project website demopublicmapping.org.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in partnership with JSPAN, Common Cause/PA and the PA League of Women Voters want to use DistrictBuilder to sponsor a redistricting competition and demonstrate that a non-partisan, open redistricting process based on objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional district maps in Pennsylvania.  The competition would be open to individuals.  The winners would be selected through an objective scoring system based on anti-gerrymandering criteria of compactness, competitiveness, representativeness, equality and integrity.

The three sponsoring organizations can contribute $6,000 toward prizes and incidental competition costs.  But to use the software we need to raise $35,000 before May 1.  Can you help?  To make a tax-deductible contribution click the button or contact [email protected] (Contributions directed to this project will be refunded if we do not meet our fundraising goal.)

For more information or become a co-sponsoring organizations, please contact Dan Loeb [email protected]

More after the jump.
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is organized pursuant to Pennsylvania’s non-profit corporation law. We have tax exempt status under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). For more information visit GuideStar.

Contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. The official registrations and financial information of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.

Redistricting Pennsylvania

Cross-posted from DemConWatch.

Thanks Tmess2 for the great introduction to the Pennsylvania census numbers (and all the great census work overall).

The first thing I'd like to say about the Pennsylvania census numbers is that Philadelphia gained population for the first time since 1950. The current population of 1,526,006 raises it back to fifth largest in the US, replacing Phoenix, which had surpassed Philly about 4 years ago, and now has a population of 1,445,632. (Sorry, local pride and all that….plus we're not out to send people out of the country….)

So here's the map: 



And here is the current map of Congressional Districts:

If you look at the two maps, you can see that certain areas will win, and some will lose. So, what do we think will happen given that on the state level, Pennsylvania became a Republican state in 2010? Despite the fact that the governor and three of four legislative caucuses are all from the western part of the state, that's the most likely point of loss for the seat that will disappear. If John Murtha were still alive, there's no doubt that his would be the district gerrymandered out of existence. But it looks like that district, the 12th, currently held by Blue Dog Mark Critz might end up more blue. 

Still, the GOP will be playing with the lines in Southeastern PA. The money is on redrawing the line between the 2nd and the 8th, currently held by Chaka Fattah and Allyson Schwartz, respectively. This would be a battle between suburban whites and Philadelphia blacks. The kind of bloodbath the Republicans would pay to see.

Another likelihood is that the 6th and 7th (Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan (representing Joe Sestak's old district), respectively) will expand west into Lancaster County. Except, um, for Joe Pitts. He's the currently longest-serving member of the Pennsylvania delegation. He likes his job. He's a "good" Republican. He's also 71 and not spry. Still, the way population has grown more in Chester County as compared to Lancaster County, it’s hard to tell. We'll see. 

Almost everything else is in flux except CD 1, Bob Brady's district. No one messes with Bob Brady. 

In many states, there is discussion about the growth of the Hispanic population and its affects on election outcomes. This is true in places like California, where the non-Hispanic white population is pegged at 40%. But here in Pennsylvania, Hispanics are not yet a driving force. Despite their huge percentage contribution to the overall state population growth, they are still less than 6% of the population, and are not organized as a political force. 

Musical Chairs: GOP Plans for Pennsylvania Redistricting

This coming week the Census Bureau will be releasing detailed data required for the redistricting of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans control all the levers of power; they control the Pennsylvania House of Representative 112-91 and  the Pennsylvania Senate 30-20 while Republican Tom Corbett is Governor.

According to Keegan Gibson at PoliticsPA, “the Republican delegation is coming to Harrisburg” today to plan the redistricting which will change this district map and shape the elections over the next 10 years.

Here are some scenarios that PA’s Republican Congressmen are talking about, according to sources close to the delegation:

  • Schwartz vs. Fattah
    Republicans are eying the possibility of matching up two of PA’s most powerful Democrats in a fratricidal showdown. Allyson Schwartz has millions of campaign dollars and the support of the white collar liberals of the Philly suburbs. Her district currently abuts that of Chaka Fattah, the most liked public figure in Philadelphia. It’s unlikely either would be willing to budge from their seat if their districts were combined, and that would mean a knock-down, drag-out fight between the liberal white Democrats of the suburbs and the African-American Democrats of Philly. What Republican wouldn’t love to see that?
  • Go West, Suburban Republicans
    Each of the Philly area Republicans hopes to have his district made more secure, and they’re looking west to do it.  The state’s population growth is disproportionately found in south central PA, meaning that the Lancaster-based 16th district is likely to contract. That would leave room for Reps. Gerlach and Meehan to move west into the conservative parts of Chester County. Rep. Joe Pitts is the X-factor. The 71 year-old dean of the GOP delegation, Pitts lives in Chester County and would prefer to keep the seat based there.
  • Shuffle Southwest PA Dems and Beat Altmire the Old-Fashioned Way
    The GOP sees Rep. Jason Altmire as the most vulnerable Democrat in PA, but Republicans (read: Reps. Tim Murphy and Bill Shuster) don’t want to pick up Democratic voters from his district.  The GOP is looking at ways to move Democratic voters from Altmire’s district into either that of Rep. Mark Critz or Rep. Mike Doyle in an effort to tweak the 4th district and ensure a GOP win there. And they’re paying attention to rumblings of a Democratic primary challenger for Altmire.
  • Barletta Blues
    No Republican plan currently on the table will make Rep. Lou Barletta’s Scranton and Wilkes-Barre-based district a sure bet for the freshman Congressman. Barring some radical shift in Tim Holden’s 17th district to include the city of Scranton (which is regarded as a distant possibility at this point), Barletta’s district will become only slightly more favorable for Republicans and will still contain the city of Scranton.
  • Democratic Winners
    GOP plans to secure their districts will come as good news to some Democrats, who’s districts are likely to absorb the Democrats that Republicans don’t want. Some of those winners include (as of the current plans): Rep. Mark Critz, Rep. Tim Holden, and Rep. Mike Doyle. Each of their districts is likely to get more blue.

2010 Census Details about Pennsylvania and other states are available after the jump courtesy of the Census Bureau as they become available.

Prison-based gerrymandering costs Maine 8th graders local schooling

— Peter Wagner

The decision last month by Maine’s Regional School Unit 13 to shift 8th graders in the town of St. George from the local school to a regional one is reinvigorating calls for an end to prison-based gerrymandering.

Next year, when 8th graders in the Maine town of St. George find themselves attending the 8th and 9th grade school in Thomaston instead of the local school, they’ll have prison-based gerrymandering to thank. On January 8, Maine’s Regional School Unit 13 decided by a very narrow vote — over the objections of the representatives from St. George — to move the 8th grade. The supporters of the school closure prevailed only because the representatives from Thomaston were able to cast additional votes because the town used to contain a prison.

More after the jump

State Representative Babette Josephs has introduced a redistricting reform bill HB 134. However, it does not address prison-based redistricting.
As Brenda Wright, Aleks Kajstura and I explained in a letter to the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education in 2009:

“The Regional School Unit 13 apportionment is a system of weighted votes, where each town is given a number of votes in proportion to its population. However, the apportionment was conducted with Census data that did not reflect the actual population. The Regional School Unit based its apportionment on Census Bureau estimates for 2006 that credited the town of Thomaston with the population of the Maine State Prison that had closed 4 years prior.

As argued in Phantom Constituents in Maine’s Regional School Unit 13: How the Census Bureau’s Outdated Method of Counting Prisoners Harms Democracy, basing the weighted voting system on Census counts of prisoners at the now-closed Maine State Prison in Thomaston gives the actual residents of Thomaston an enhanced say over school board affairs.

By padding Thomaston’s actual resident population with the non-resident prison population, the current weighted voting system gives every group of 10 residents of Thomaston the same power over school district decisions as each group of 11 residents in the other towns.

With the RSU 13 board unwilling to request the Commissioner for permission to reapportion with corrected Census numbers, and the Commissioner refusing to make that determination on her own authority, board member Josiah Wilson has been collecting signatures as part of a petition campaign urging the Commissioner to order an new apportionment.

“The recent board decision to move the 8th graders is detrimental for my town and its school,” said board member Josiah Wilson. “But the fact that the prison counts influenced the outcome is making it easier to get voters all over the RSU 13 to sign the petition.”

Unlike the complicated redistricting process, the weighted voting formula required by Maine law is extremely straight forward. In the past, I helped Josiah Wilson calculate the votes for each town based on newer Census numbers that did not include the prison; and when the Census data for Maine are released, we’ll be able to calculate this within minutes.

The delay on ending prison-based gerrymandering in Maine is unfortunate, and I hope that via either Josiah Wilson’s petition or the pending appointment of a new Commissioner of Education, it ends soon. The prison has been gone for a long time. So too should prison-based gerrymandering.

Why Wyoming and Not Washington D.C.?

Daniel E. Loeb

The 2010 Census figures released yesterday show that Washington D.C. now has 601,723 residents whereas the State of Wyoming only has 563,626. In fact, Wyoming has never had as many residents as the District of Columbia.

So why does Wyoming get two Senators and a Congressmen while Americans living our nations capital have no representation in Congress?

Similarly, while Alaska currently has more residents than Washington D.C., it had far less in the census prior to Statehood.

The situation in Puerto Rico is even worse. 3,725,789 Americans live in Puerto Rico, but they do not have a vote in Congress, nor do they have any influence in the November Presidential election.

When I was an American living in France, I had the right to cast an absentee ballot in my state of origin. Does this make any sense? Should an American in France have more rights than American’s in our nation’s capital, Puerto Rico and the other territories.

An effort to give a single Representative to DC was defeated last year by the introduction of a poison-pill amendment promoted by the NRA.

This year, the House passed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act by a vote of 223-169. However, the Republican minority was able to prevent this bill from coming up for a vote. This act would would have allowed Puerto Ricans to vote on their status and either become a U.S. State, continue as a U.S. Territory, or become an independent country.

If the United States is to be a beacon of Democracy throughout the world, it must allow Americans in D.C. and Puerto Rico the same rights it gives Wyomans, Alaskans and Americans Abroad.

Breaking News: Winners and Losers in the 2010 Census

Dan Loeb

The Census Bureau announced the results of the 2010 Census. As a result a total of 12 seats in the House of Representatives are moving from one state to another with similar changes in each  state's representation in the Electoral College which will choose the U.S. President in 2012, 2016 and 2020. The big winners are Texas and Florida at the expense of states with less population growth like New York and Ohio.


  • Texas: 36 (up 4 from 32) – R
  • Florida: 27 (up 2 from 25) – R
  • Arizona: 9 (up from 8) – Ind
  • Georgia: 14 (up from 13) – R
  • Nevada: 4 (up from 3) – Split R Gov, D Leg
  • Utah: 4 (up from 3) – R
  • South Carolina: 7 (up from 6) – R
  • Washington: 10 (up from 9) – Ind


  • Ind means the redistricting process is mostly controlled by an independent or bipartisan commission.
  • D means the redistricting process is controlled by Democrats (subject to judicial review).
  • R means the redistricting process is controlled by Republicans (subject to judicial review).
  • Split: In three states (Missouri, Louisiana and Nevada), both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by one party while the governor belongs to the other party. The legislature’s redistricting plan is subject to a possible gubernatorial veto.


  • New York: 27 (down 2 from 29) – D
  • Ohio: 16 (down 2 from 18) – R
  • Illinois: 18 (down from 19) – D
  • Iowa: 4 (down from 5) – Ind
  • Louisiana: 6 (down from 7) – Split R Gov, D Leg
  • Massachusetts: 9 (down from 10) – D
  • Michigan: 14 (down from 15) – R
  • Missouri: 8 (down from 9) – Split D Gov, R Leg
  • New Jersey: 12 (down from 13) – Ind
  • Pennsylvania: 18 (down from 19) – R

Missouri almost avoided losing a seat. If it had 5,120 more residents (0.085% extra population, then it would have beaten out North Carolina which would have lost a seat instead. Louisiana’s losses are almost certainly related to post-Katrina migration

Overall, the “red states” tended to gain population and pick up seats at the expense of the “blue states” although they certainly became more “purple” in the process. The states won by Barack Obama lost a total of 6 electoral votes to the states won by John McCain. Thus, had these numbers been in effect during the last election Obama would have won by a smaller margin 359-179 as opposed to 365-173.

If Obama had won only Iowa (in which he had a 9.53% margin) and all of the other states in which he had a bigger margin (but not Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Nebraska’s 2nd district, Indiana, North Carolina or Missouri where he had smaller margins), then using the actual numbers the election would have been a tie in the Electoral College 269-269 but using the new numbers the election would have been a victory for John McCain 275-263. (See spreadsheet for details.) Thus, the shift of 6 electoral votes can make a real difference. In fact, the 1876 Presidential Election between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden was determined by a single electoral vote while the 2000 Election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was determined by five electoral votes.

Redistricting Florida Redux

Dan Loeb

Yesterday, Florida voters overwhelming approved two Constitutional amendments proposed by Fair District Florida to change the rules for redistricting on the state and federal level. Last April, I wrote in opposition to these “reforms”.

While I am deeply concerned about the problems with the current system, I believe that the  amendments do not achieve the goal of creating balance, competitive Congressional districts . I fear that passing well-intentioned but poorly-designed referendums will delay any serious attempts at meaningful redistricting reform.