On Thursday, December 16th, the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved a preliminary set of new State House and Senate maps, based on the 2020 Census results. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is comprised of 5 members: The majority and minority leaders of both the House and the Senate, and a Chair appointed by the Chief Justice of the PA Supreme Court that acts as neutral and nonpartisan arbiter.
The proposed Senate map passed unanimously in initial voting, and generally received a favorable response on both sides of the political aisle. District maps should maintain partisan fairness, or the general political leaning of the state as a whole. In Pennsylvania, the closest reflection to partisan fairness would provide 26 Democratic seats, and 24 Republican seats; this proposed map would split the Democratic and Republican seats evenly, with 25 each. It is also said to favor incumbents and has less dramatic that would affect landscape of the political parties across the state than the House map would produce.
The proposed state House map is the subject of greater controversy among elected officials. The map was approved by the Commission in a 3-2 vote, split along party lines. State Democrats claim the new map would correct past partisan unfairness. State Republicans argue the map goes too far in shifting power back to Democrats and is an over-correction. Neutral analysts at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project have estimated that the new House map would produce 104 Republican districts and 99 Democratic ones, compared to the current map’s 118 Republican districts and 85 Democratic ones. Republican critics of the proposed map state that the geography of Pennsylvania is not accurately reflected, because Democratic voters are concentrated in small urban areas such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
How do these new maps address minority communities, who have been the major driver of population change in Pennsylvania over the last decade? These shifts can be examined at both the state level and for the city of Philadelphia. Both the Senate and House maps attempt to address the growth of Latino communities in the Lehigh Valley. The Senate map would create a new minority-influenced district in Lehigh County and improves minority representation compared to the current map. Of the 50 districts, four would be majority-minority – the current map has only three. The new map also creates five coalition-majority districts, or areas with a combination of several minority groups. The House map proposes even more significant change in areas that have seen growing minority populations. Splits are proposed in Harrisburg, State College, Reading, Allentown, and Scranton, and three new House districts would be created in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Montgomery counties. Republicans claim this is evidence of partisan gerrymandering; Democrats claim this is reflective of population changes in those areas.
In Philadelphia, the proposed state Senate map makes districts 2 and 3 more compact and does not divide the North Philadelphia Hispanic community any more than the current maps. It shifts the northern boundary of the 2nd senatorial district a bit further up Roosevelt Blvd, which tracks with the movement of the Hispanic community in North Philadelphia. The movement of Hispanics over the next decade may shift further north than this district boundary, but the district does not worsen the situation for Hispanic communities in the short term. The proposed new state House districts in Philadelphia appear to also shift with the movement of Hispanic and other minority groups, by shifting district boundaries further east and north, and making them more compact.
The approval of the proposed maps on December 16th began a 30-day public comment period, and several hearings are planned throughout the state during this time. Following the public comment period, the legislature will have 30 days to apply the public’s feedback to the maps and make changes. A third and final 30-day period follows, in which any Pennsylvanian can appeal the maps to the state Supreme Court. The first hearings took place on January 6th and 7th in Harrisburg, with an option for attendees to join via Zoom. Hearings are also planned for January 14th and 15th, with times and attendee access information yet to be publicized. To find information about public hearings, or submit testimony in writing, visit: www.redistricting.state.pa.us/commission/article/1087.