Last chance to comment on new legislative constituencies looms

The final opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the proposed new maps of House and Senate districts in the Pennsylvania General Assembly will be Friday and Saturday.

Public hearings will take place on Friday, January 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Saturday, January 15, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Those wishing to speak can register to testify remotely at www.redistricting.state.pa.us/commission/article/1090 and written testimony can be submitted at www.redistricting.state.pa.us/comment/

State House and State Senate districts are redrawn every 10 years as a result of the U.S. Census, to ensure that representation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly reflects shifts and shifts in population that have occurred since the last census and divide, as much as possible, to the constitutional ideal of one person, one vote by making the population of each district as close to identical as possible.

According to the new census, Pennsylvania has globally lost its population over the past 10 years, which is why the state will have one less seat in the United States House of Representatives.

But the number of seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly is set at 50 Senate seats and 203 House seats. As a result, the redistribution process at the state level focuses more on how to fairly distribute this fixed number of seats among the newly counted population, so that districts do not have too many people, or two few.

In addition to a similar number of people, the ideal is for districts to be as compact as possible, with a minimum number of divisions between counties, municipalities and school districts. The Pennsylvania Constitution assigns responsibility for the enforcement of these charges, at least currently, to the Pennsylvania Legislative Redistribution Commission.

The red and pink areas on this map have lost population over the past 10 years. The areas in grey, and particularly in black, have grown in population over the last 10 years Source: PA Legislative Reapportionment Committee

In his opening remarks at the commission’s hearing on January 6, commission chair Mark A. Nordenberg observed: “Two undeniable trends have driven the demographic shifts that will inevitably shape the work of this committee. One is the continued shift of population from rural to urban areas, especially from the north and west to the south and east, and the other is the increase in the non-white population of Pennsylvania .

He noted that “Cameron County, in the north central region of the state, has a population density of 11.5 people per square mile, while Philadelphia County has a population density of 11,960. people per square mile…that is, a population density greater than 1,000 times greater.

Nordenberg quoted Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, as saying that “Most of Pennsylvania’s population growth has occurred in the Southeast region. In fact, according to our calculations, over the past ten years, the population of southeastern Pennsylvania has increased by 344,075 people, while the combined population of all of the rest of the state has decreased by 43,754.”

More people means moving House seats to the Southeast, where Democratic voter registration is rising, and fewer to rural areas, where Republican voters are in the majority and the population is shrinking.

The inevitable result of this dynamic is the combination of House quarters now held by Republicans and a few by Democrats, giving rise to what the commission calls “incumbent pairings.” In plain English, this means that incumbents of the same party must run against each other and only one can win.

Although Republicans have complained about the House redistricting map proposal, it is less disruptive than other models. (Source: PA Legislative Reapportionment Commission)

Republicans are crying foul over the outcome of the commission’s recommended map that will see 12 incumbent Republicans and two Democrats face off. This despite the fact that maps from Fair Districts PA and cartographer Laura Holt, who both submitted their own house map proposals, would have forced 36 matchups between incumbent Republicans and 24 matchups for incumbent Democrats.

This map shows the neighborhoods of House in Montgomery and Chester counties as they exist today. (Image taken from a screenshot)

In a taxpayer-funded newsletter released Jan. 7 to voters, State Rep. Tracy Pennycuick, R-147th Dist. wrote, “The House District Map brings drastic changes to a number of areas of the state, combining more than a dozen mostly rural and Republican districts and diluting the voice of rural Pennsylvania, while distancing a House seat of rapidly growing areas like Cumberland County in central AP and the addition of a seat in the city of Philadelphia even though the population does not justify the addition. Most small towns in the state are divided into two, three, or even four wards. And more than 4.6 million Pennsylvanians — more than a third of the population — would be moved to new legislative districts under the plan,” she told voters.

Nordenberg had a response for Pennycuick’s use of Cumberland County as an example, an example that has appeared in other GOP House newscasts.

“Cumberland County had the largest percentage increase in population over 10 years, growing 10.2%, which is great news. However, converted to absolute population growth, that 10.2 percent represents just over 22,000 people, considerably less than half the population needed to support a single-house district, while the 5 percent growth, Philadelphia County’s 1% increase, although only half of Cumberland County’s percentage increase, translates to a population increase of about 85,000 people, or almost four times that,” Nordenberg said.

As for his new district, Pennsycuick had few complaints. The new 147th district as proposed, which gets a higher percentage of registered Republicans.

“Fortunately, the 147th Legislative District, which I represent, remains virtually intact according to the proposed maps and will remain represented by a single House member,” Pennycuick said in a statement released by her office, although she lamented the loss. of Upper and West. Pottsgrove, which she now represents.

This map shows PA House’s proposed districts for Chester and Montgomery counties. (Screenshot image)

Carol Kunniholm leads the nonpartisan advocacy group Fair Districts PA. She testified before the commission and her organization constructed maps for consideration, and she strongly disagreed with Pennycuick’s characterization.

“The proposed House map is NOT gerrymandered in favor of the Democrats. By all criteria required by law, it is much better than the current house card. It is more compact, more contiguous and divides fewer counties and municipalities. This goes a long way toward undoing twenty years of warped neighborhoods,” she wrote in a newsletter.

“By reaffirming the voice of voters, these maps necessarily seem to shift likely election outcomes from a locked-in Republican advantage to a much more uncertain majority,” Kunniholm wrote. “That means the cards would require both parties to represent the people of Pennsylvania well, or face change in the next election.”

This map shows how Pottstown and surrounding townships are divided into three house districts. The new map combines them into one district, along with Limerick. (Screenshot image)

Ruth Yeiser, a Fair Districts AP volunteer who lives in Lower Frederick Township, pointed to the number of municipalities divided under the current map, including the Pottstown area, which is divided into three House seats, and that not only divides Phoenixville, but even a voting room there as well. The current map “divides fewer communities,” she said.

Republicans have also argued that the proposed map is designed to secure a Democratic majority in the House and used results from the two most recent state elections in 2016 and 2020, which included landslide Democratic wins for Governor Tom Wolf. and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, as the basis for their cartographic calculations.

Mark Nordenberg, the court-appointed chairman of the redistribution commission and the crucial vote to move the new maps forward, is a former law professor and retired chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. (Screenshot image)

But Nordenberg explained that these were unusual years and that in a normal year, according to the current map, “Republicans win 105 House seats and Democrats only win 98 House seats, even when Democrats win 5% more votes” statewide.

“According to the Commission’s preliminary map, if the Democrats win 5% more votes, they win 106 seats compared to 97 for the Republicans. It’s a result most people would consider fair – that is, if you win a substantial majority of the vote. vote, you should also win a majority of the seats,” he said.

Additionally, “in a perfectly equal election conducted according to the commission’s preliminary map,” with each party winning 50% of the statewide vote, “Republicans are still ahead, and are expected to win 105 seats, while Democrats are expected to win 105 seats. win 98 seats,” explained Nordenberg.

This map shows the current Senate districts at the conjunction of Chester, Berks, and Montgomery counties. (Image by Patricia Rooney)

State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., While sad to no longer represent the communities of Trappe, Royersford and Perkiomen, he acknowledges that the new map, which combines Limerick with Pottstown and the surrounding communities of Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Pottsgrove and West Pottsgrove, is fairer for these communities.

“I tried to look at it from the perspective of its less gerrymander,” he said, using the phrase that denotes drawing district lines with partisan motivations.

This map shows the proposed new state senate districts at the conjunction of Berks, Chester, and Montgomery counties. (Image by Patricia Rooney)

And, it makes more sense for the adjacent boroughs of Trappe and Collegeville, which share a school district and public works operation, to be represented by the same House member, said Amy Smith, chief of staff for the Rep. State Joe Webster, D- 150th Dist., which will lose Skippack and West Norriton under the new plan, but gain Trappe and all of Upper Providence Township.

“He’s a practical progressive, so he’s happy with that. The new district makes sense,” Smith said of Webster’s reaction.

Queries to State Representatives Tim Hennessey, R-26th Dist. ; Melissa Shusterman, D-157th Dist., and Matt Bradford, D-70th Dist., had not returned before press time.

There’s less disagreement over the state’s proposed new Senate map, largely because the Republican and Democratic caucuses cooperated to submit a map to the committee that has a minimum number of face-to-face incumbents — a feat easier given the larger population of Senate districts.

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