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Week 19: November 2, 2020

As you may know, Pennsylvania is a battleground state during the presidential election, and will play a particularly vital role this year (2020) in deciding who wins the white house. However, PA is also historically one of the most gerrymandered states in the entire country. Being an election year and census year, it is important to understand the process and implications of redistricting so that we can ensure it is done in a fair and equitable manner and that political representation is proportional for the next ten years to come.

What is Gerrymandering?

Watch this 2 minute video on what Gerrymandering is

The process for districting varies in each state – most have legislatures control who draw the maps, and need governmental approval (like in PA), although some states have special commissions in an attempt to avoid gerrymandering. If state legislators decide who draws district lines, whichever party has control over the legislature can manipulate votes so that they will have an advantage for the next 10 years to come.

Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

With the invention of new statistical technology, maps can be drawn to Gerrymander to an unprecedented extreme. Nowhere is this more evident than in the drawing of the 2011 map by the Republican controlled legislature. Although later overturned in 2018, districts were drawn in such a way that Republicans were granted 13 out of the 20 seats (and electoral votes), which stripped democratic voters from house seats and electoral votes. Out of 500 maps drawn through a program that reflected probable districting, researchers found that most awarded republicans 9 seats, 2% of them gave 10 seats. None awarded the republicans the 13 seat majority they managed to draw themselves. To further exemplify the severity of the misrepresentation, another researcher found that slight changes to district borders would result in fewer republican seats 99.999999% of the time.

The results of this on Pennsylvania’s congressional representation was particularly noteworthy, as in 2012, Republican candidates won only 49% of votes, but managed to acquire 72% of seats. In response, groups such as the League of Women Voters challenged the PA legislature. It went to court, and after a lengthy trial, was eventually thrown out before the 2018 congressional election.

A new map was redrawn by Republican legislators, and rejected by Governor Wolf for still being gerrymandered. In February, the Pennsylvania Supreme court released its own map drawn with the help of a Stanford law professor, which was eventually approved as the new districting map (not without a fight from Republican legislators, who tried and failed to challenge it in the U.S. Supreme court).

2020 Election and Onward

Gerrymandering impacts both the congressional and state legislative makeup, so it is vital that when maps are redrawn this January they are done so in a fair and equitable manner. This year, regardless of other reforms, Governor Wolf will still have to approve the congressional map.

There are multiple proposed courses of action for how the maps will be drawn. Some advocates wanted an amendment to the state constitution, but as January approaches it is becoming clearer that this will not be feasible in time for the 2021 map. Other potential actions include a bill introduced by Rep Wendi Thomas, which would include provisions that would limit the amount of times legislators could split a county and make the process more transparent, including public hearings and access to videos of meetings and data that went into drawing the lines. The bill has been sent to the House state government committee chaired by Rep.Garth Everett, and as of now has had no further progression. Two other bills have been proposed that would implement an independent commission to draw congressional maps, but Republicans have so far put off a vote.

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