Friday, December 08, 2017

Will Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Really Be Re-Drawn Before The Midterms?


Pennsylvania is one of the most absurdly gerrymandered states in the country. Let's call it a 50/50 state. The 5 most recent presidential elections:
2000- Gore 50.6%, 48.6%
2004- Kerry 51.0%, Bush 48.5%
2008- Obama 54.7%, McCain 44.3%
2012- Obama 52.0%, Romney 46.8%
2016- Trump 48.6%, Hillary 47.9%
The 5 most recent presidential elections:
1998- Tom Ridge (R) 57.42%, Ivan Itkin 31.3%
2002- Ed Rendell (D) 53.41%, Mark Fisher 44.37%
2006- Ed Rendell (D) 60.36%, Lynn Swann 39.64%
2010- Tom Corbett (R) 54.49%, Dan Onorato 45.51%
2014- Tom Wolf (D) 54.93% Tom Corbett 45.07%
Pretty evenly split, right? OK, a small advantage statewide for Democrats. But the state has been so gerrymandered that the Republicans control both Houses of the state legislature and the congressional delegation-- by gigantic margins. Right now, the state House has 121 Republicans and 82 Democrats and the state Senate has 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats. They drew the congressional districts so... there are 13 Republicans and just 5 Democrats, instead of 9 and 9. Now that is really egregious and blatant gerrymandering!

But don't just take my word for it. The state Supreme Court thinks so too. And they want to do something about it. Now. Yeah, right now-- in time for the 2018 midterms! and they're expediting a lawsuit alleging that Pennsylvania's map of Congressional districts has been gerrymandered to a point where it is violating voters' constitutional rights. In a split 4-3 decision last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled a lower court's stay on the case, and put it at or near the top of the Commonwealth Court's docket with a decision deadline of Dec. 31.
Plaintiffs in the case celebrated the chance to get their partisan gerrymandering challenge heard and decided in time to potentially redraw the maps for the 2018 elections for Pennsylvania's 18 Congressional seats.

Legislative leaders said they would defend the existing maps, which they noted have been in play here since 2012.

...Initially filed in June, the case brought by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and 18 voters from across the state argues that the Congressional district lines were drawn with such an emphasis on finding advantages for Republican candidates in 2011 that Democratic voters have literally been punished for their voting patterns.

Plaintiffs say the result has made a mockery of the fair elections process, and they hope to use a battery of statistical measures to prove it.

By one such measure, called the "efficiency gap," Pennsylvania ranked with North Carolina as one of the two most gerrymandered states in the nation.

The efficiency gap basically tries to measure competitiveness in districts by comparing single district election margins throughout the state, resulting in a metric designed to show which party is getting the biggest bang for its votes.

Still, the only real black-and-white test in Pennsylvania for redrawing Congressional lines is equal population. So the plaintiffs here have alleged violations of equal protection and freedom of association clauses in the constitution.

Thursday's Supreme Court decision saw four of the court's five justices elected as Democrats-- Christine Donahue, Kevin Dougherty, Deborah Todd, David Wecht-- insist on a trial.

Donahue, Dougherty and Wecht only came onto the court last year, and this is their first bite at the redistricting apple.

The majority held the case "involves issues of immediate public importance," and said it will retain continuing supervision of the case, which suggests that any appeal of a Commonwealth Court decision would be expedited.

Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and justices Max Baer and Sally Mundy dissented.

The case before the Commonwealth Court is expected to result in a civil trial with, at minimum, several expert witnesses called by both sides. The court's decision could range from upholding the existing map, to calling for an immediate redraw.

Time has always been of the essence for the plaintiffs, because they hope to effect a change in the state's maps in time for the 2018 election cycle, which actually starts this winter with circulation of nominating petitions for party primaries.

The court's action immediately injected a layer of uncertainty into the political jockeying taking place across Pennsylvania now, as candidates gearing up for Congressional races have to wonder if they will be in entirely different districts by February.
A case can be argued that every district in the state should be scrapped and redrawn from scratch by a non-partisan body. The most notoriously gerrymandered districts are in the Philly suburbs, PA-06 (Ryan Costello), PA-07 (Pat Meehan) and PA-16 (Lloyd Smucker) but it's going to be a mess untangling the mess that the district boundaries across the state are.

Earlier today, Matt Cartwright a congressman from a district (PA-17) that twists and turns from Carbondale to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre and then south to Pocono Summit, the Delaware Water Gap and Nazareth and as far south as Easton in the east and Freemansburg in the west, told us that "Pennsylvania’s Congressional map is an abomination, a perfect example of politicians selecting their voters, instead of vice versa. I think we are fortunate to have a majority on the state Supreme Court willing to dive into this question and fix our preternaturally bollocksed up Congressional boundaries. It is hard to imagine that any tribunal could conclude that this map is not violative of any reasonable standard of electoral fairness. The real question is the one you have asked at the beginning:  whether the Supreme Court has the will to race time and put a new map in place for 2018. My prediction is that the Olympic-caliber foot-dragging Republicans in Harrisburg will test the high court’s resolve-- to do the right thing-- to the utmost.

Mary Ellen Balchunis, is a political science professor who has run twice before-- and in the most gerrymandered district in the country: PA-07. She told us that "America Votes, a national nonpartisan organization has said: 'PA is the worst gerrymandered state in the nation and PA-07 is the worst of the worst.' Penssylvania has two gerrymandering cases this month. The Pennsylvania state gerrymandering case begins in State court next week with the Speaker of the House Mike Turzai expected to testify. As the former congressional candidate in Congressional District PA-07, often called the 'poster child for gerrymandering," I have been working with Concerned Citizens for Democracy to end gerrymandering and the Agre v. Wolf case. Our case began in federal court on Monday with a panel of three judges,and is also fast tracked for a decision before the 2018 midterm election. Gov. Wolf's lawyer has said that if this challenge is successful and a redrawing is ordered, he would work 'to accommodate that process, including adjusting primary dates and schedules.' This case is relying on the Election Clause of the U.S. Constitution that gives the states the power to run elections, not to allow partisanship in their decisions and gerrymandering. The case is also asking for Traditional Neutral Districts that are equal in population, contiguous, compact, and respect boundaries by not dividing counties, municipalities, townships, and boroughs unless absolutely necessary to create a congressional district."

And this year state Senator Daylin Leach is the leading candidate for that same PA-07 district. "Historically," he told us, "Pennsylvania has been among the most aggressively gerrymandered states in the nation. Our legislature has not been a leader on most national issues, but they have been determined, passionate and creative when it comes to guaranteeing that the voters of our state are completely irrelevant on election day. I am ecstatic that the courts may finally be putting a stop to the theft of votes that our redistricting process is."

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At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the background, I'm hearing the grinding of a sharp edge in a shank to be stuck in the back of the Democrats so that they don't gain an advantage over Republicans.


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