PA approves legislative maps

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 2/8/22

HARRISBURG, PA — After a long redistricting process, Pennsylvania finally has new legislative district maps. But legal challenges could be lying down the road.

The commonwealth’s …

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PA approves legislative maps

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HARRISBURG, PA — After a long redistricting process, Pennsylvania finally has new legislative district maps. But legal challenges could be lying down the road.

The commonwealth’s legislative maps determine the districts that state senators and House members represent.

According to online evaluation tools which measure the fairness of district maps, the newly approved maps are improvements over the two which have been in place for the past 10 years. Some top Republicans, however, are outraged with the result. They’ve specifically decried the new House map as a Democratic gerrymander—a map strategically drawn to benefit one part over the other.

The new House map does dramatically shift the balance of power in Harrisburg. But experts say the shift comes less from Democrats gaining an advantage, and more from Republicans losing a decades-long bias. For years, Pennsylvania has been home to some of the most heavily gerrymandered maps in the country, most often in favor of the Republican party, according to Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit that advocates for less partisan, more representative maps.

The legislature’s new maps were approved by a five-person commission made up of two Republican leaders, two Democratic leaders and a nonpartisan chair. The Senate map passed without much debate. But Republican House majority leader Kerry Benninghoff was vocal in his opposition to the House’s new map ever since it was first introduced.

He proposed an amendment to the map which he argued could improve its overall fairness while splitting fewer counties and creating more minority voting districts. The amendment was not adopted, and the House map was approved with four “yes” votes and a lone “no” vote from Benninghoff.

“This map does not create more competitive districts. In fact, it packs Republicans and Democrats into uncompetitive districts,” he said in a statement following the vote. “This might change competitiveness on the floor of the House of Representatives, but it does not create fair districts. This map’s competitiveness is so bad that it will only lead to increased polarization, less bipartisanship and more gridlock.”

Benninghoff also alleged that the new House map “dilutes minority voting power in order to preserve districts for white Democrat incumbents.” The state House’s three Latino representatives as well as the leaders of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus have endorsed the map for improving minority representation.

Fair Districts PA lauded both of the new maps.

“While we’re still assessing the maps, we can say with certainty: These maps are better for the people of Pennsylvania than the legislative maps of the past two decades. They are more compact, split fewer jurisdictions and will be more responsive to PA voters,” Fair Districts PA chair Carol Kuniholm said a in statement. “We applaud this step toward a more transparent process and look forward to a more accountable legislature as these new maps are used in the next decade of PA elections.”

With new maps adopted and the primaries quickly approaching, the next challenge will be for the state’s court system to resolve expected legal challenges to the new districts in time for May.

Click here for more information on Pennsylvania's redistricting process.

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