Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced that the Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council has finalized a set of guiding principles of legal, representation and process recommendations the governor should consider when evaluating the fairness of a congressional redistricting map presented by the General Assembly.
“Our commonwealth and our nation were founded on the ideas that voters freely select their own elected leaders, not the opposite way around,” said Wolf, adding that gerrymandering is harmful to democracy and politicians should not use the drawing of congressional district boundaries to choose their own voters. “The congressional districts that will be drawn by the General Assembly are key to that process. I thank the members of the Advisory Council for their work in developing a thoughtful set of principles to help me better evaluate the fairness of the congressional map when it reaches my desk. The decision of whether to accept or veto the upcoming map will be one of my most important moments as governor and these principles will be crucial in guiding my review.”
The principles include:
Legal principles to serve as a minimal floor of protection so districts have compact and contiguous territory that minimize as many divisions of political subdivisions as practicable.
– Each district should be as nearly equal in population as practicable
– All territory within a district should connect to the rest of the district and disfavor a district with territory only connected at a narrow single point
– Provide geographic compactness unless dispersion is required to advance another positive districting principle
– Prioritize fewer subdivision splits unless necessary to preserve a cohesive, a clearly identified, community of interest
– Consider whether the Voting Rights Act requires the creation of proposed majority-minority districts
Principles of representation to assure equal representation and fairness so a group’s power is not diluted as a check on partisan gerrymandering.
– Maintain communities of interest
– Composition of the congressional delegation should be proportional to statewide voter preference
– Responsive to changing voter preference
Principles of process to help ensure a fair and transparent process, the public should have an opportunity to provide input, comment and participate on the map passed by the General Assembly.
The General Assembly’s proposed map should include an explanation of specific decisions, such as the communities of interest and how they were defined and the factors that led to the creation of a majority-minority district.
The council met numerous times to develop the principles, and subsequently held a series of eight in-person public listening sessions across the state, as well as a virtual public listening session, to take public feedback on the principles and the redistricting process. In addition, a public comment portal was created to allow citizens to submit comments and draw their own proposed voting district and community of interest maps. All comments submitted at the listening sessions and via the public comment portal were evaluated by the advisory council prior to finalization of the principles.
The governor signed Executive Order 2021-05 on Sept. 13 establishing the six-member advisory council. Its members have expertise in redistricting, political science and mapmaking and include:
– Tabatha Abu El-Haj, Ph.D. J.D., professor of law, Drexel University
– Lee Ann Banaszak, Ph.D., political scientist, Penn State University
– Beth Campbell, Ph.D., mathematician, Gettysburg College
– Christopher S. Fowler, Ph.D., geographer, Penn State University
– John J. Kennedy, Ph.D., political scientist, West Chester University
– Sozi Tulante, J.D., former Philadelphia City Solicitor
Once every 10 years, each state draws new congressional district maps through the legislative redistricting process following the release of U.S. Census data. As populations shift, voting district boundaries are updated so that congressional lawmakers represent a fair portion of the state’s population. Under state law, the legislature redraws the maps and passes a bill defining the new congressional district boundaries, which is then considered by the governor.