PA Republicans Submit Equally Gerrymandered New Maps

PA Republicans Submit Equally Gerrymandered New Maps February 13, 2018

After being denied a stay by the SCOTUS, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature submitted new district maps, as required by a recent PA Supreme Court ruling. Unsurprisingly, they’re equally gerrymandered for partisan purposes, precisely what the state court ruled was unconstitutional.

On Friday, Republican leaders in the legislature submitted their new map for the governor’s approval. As directed by the Supreme Court, the new map is much more compact than the old one. Gone are the infamous convolutions that characterized the old map, earning nicknames such as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”

The new districts generally respect county and municipal boundaries and don’t “wander seemingly arbitrarily across Pennsylvania,” as the state’s Supreme Court wrote. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania voters, the new districts show just as much partisan bias as the old ones…

From a partisan standpoint, in other words, the new map is almost exactly like the old one. Under the existing map, Democratic House candidates have routinely received roughly 50 percent of the statewide popular House vote but only five of the state’s 18 House seats. The new map is unlikely to change that.

“This reminds me of what happened in Florida in 2012, where the state legislature drew maps under new constitutional anti-gerrymandering requirements,” Amos said. He should know: Amos was a consulting expert for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that ultimately overturned some of Florida’s gerrymanders.

In that case the legislature redrew maps that were more compact but just as biased. “Compared to the previous decade’s plan, it was an improvement in measures like compactness and respecting county and municipal boundaries,” Amos said. “But there was still a strong Republican bias, which is why the congressional and State Senate plans were struck down for being gerrymanders.”

This is very similar to what has happened here in Michigan since the maps were redrawn in 2010, after the Tea Party “red wave” swept Republicans into power. Almost every election since then, Democratic candidates for the House have gotten more votes than Republicans, but the GOP has 9 of the 14 House seats. This is achieved not just by drawing oddly shaped districts but by “cracking and packing” — drawing the districts in a way that, depending on the local demographics, either divides Democratic areas up so they are a minority in a district (cracking) or doing the opposite, combining heavily Democratic areas together so they only get one seat instead of two (packing).

Now here’s where it gets odd. The new maps have to be accepted by the governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, who is a Democrat. That seems unlikely. If he rejects the maps as being partisan-biased, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have an independent expert from Stanford draw the new maps from scratch. I expect that might prompt a new legal challenge by Republicans, in an attempt to delay it until after the midterms if nothing else.

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