Redrawn Pennsylvania Map May Not Fix Gerrymandering, Says Governor

by | February 12, 2018

By Liz Navratil

Facing a deadline imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state legislature's two top Republicans late Friday submitted to the governor a new statewide map of congressional districts to replace boundaries that the court ruled were unconstitutional.

The map was submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai. It "complies fully" with the court's order, Scarnati and Turzai said in a joint statement.

But within roughly an hour of its public release, top Democrats in the House and the Senate urged urging Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to "reject it outright."

"The Republican leadership in both chambers blocked this process, refused to negotiate, and have now submitted a map directly to your office that we have not even seen," Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody said in a letter to Wolf.

A spokesman for Wolf said that while the map does not appear to comply with the letter of the court's order, the governor would be willing to review it.

The state Supreme Court's ruling last month declared the state's congressional map had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans, who hold 13 of 18 U.S. House seats in Pennsylvania despite winning votes from roughly half the electorate.

The justices, a majority of whom are Democrats, ordered that a new map be put in place in time for this year's elections and gave the legislature until Friday to send a proposed map to the governor. Wolf has until Thursday to approve a map and, if he chooses, submit it to the court for consideration.

Any redrawing could have significant implications not only for the state but for national politics as well, as Democrats hope to chip away at a Republican majority in the U.S. House.

In normal circumstances, maps would go to the governor only after they have been approved in votes by the Pennsylvania House and Senate. By late this week, it was no longer possible for the full, Republican-controlled legislature to pass a new map in time.

It's unclear whether the court would consider its order fulfilled if just Scarnati and Turzai submit a map without a vote.

"While the court's order did not appear to allow for two individuals to draw a map on behalf of the entire General Assembly, Gov. Wolf will review Speaker Turzai and President Scarnati's submission in consultation with the experts retained by the administration to determine his next course of action," Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said in a statement.

The Wolf administration has enlisted Moon Duchin, a professor of mathematics at Tufts University, to help evaluate any potential maps for fairness. Duchin, speaking Friday before students at the University of Pennsylvania's law school, said she felt her role was to provide guidance on how "neutral" any presented map is.

The map released Friday provided broad outlines of districts. More detailed information that would allow for a further analysis broken down by municipalities or wards could be released in coming days.

Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Scarnati and the Senate's top attorney, said Friday night that the teams working with the Republican leaders used census data and the court's guidance to draw their map, putting little emphasis on how voters in the districts had cast their ballots in the past.

"If you ask me the R and D split of that map, I have no idea what it was," he said, referring to Republicans and Democrats.

(Angela Couloumbis and Maddie Hanna contributed to this report.

(c)2018 The Philadelphia Inquirer