HARRISBURG, Pa .– Governor Tom Wolf sent a letter to House leaders and chairmen of the House State Government committee, expressing concerns about the proposed new map for the congressional districts of Pennsylvania adopted by the committee on December 15, 2021.
“I have said from the start of this process of redesigning congressional constituencies that politicians should not use to choose their own voters,” Governor Wolf said. âPennsylvania needs a fair map that ensures communities of interest are maintained and the public can meaningfully participate in the process, which are key principles recommended by my Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council.
âThe map shows significant population differences between districts, divides multiple communities of interest to improve the odds of a Republican winning an election, and fails to achieve this basic measure of partisan fairness, among other concerns. Pennsylvanians seek a fair electoral map drawn in an open and honest manner. They neither want nor deserve a map drawn by selfish politicians seeking to nest with those of their political friends. They deserve better and so does our democracy.
Each state draws new congressional district maps every 10 years after the release of US census data. As populations change, electoral district boundaries are updated so that our congressional lawmakers represent a good 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.
In response to Wolf, Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), chairman of the House State Government Committee, invited the governor to a public meeting to fully discuss the map and listen to the governor’s thoughts on it.
âFrom the start of the redistribution process, the committee has strived to keep the public informed throughout the open and transparent process,â Grove said. “As such, I hope the governor accepts this invitation to meet and talk about the map in an open forum.”
Grove sent Wolf the following letter on Tuesday:
Thank you for your letter dated December 28, 2021, regarding the Congress redistribution. If you intend not to trade the cards of Congress “behind closed doors”, let’s meet in public. I took the liberty of reserving room 60 in the east wing of the Capitol on Thursday, January 6, 2022, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This room is fully capable of providing live video feed and has public seating available. I will ensure that the room is set up to maintain a distance of six feet between participants and that participants wear a mask. I look forward to continuing this discussion.
Wolf’s letter to House leaders reads:
Dear Cutler speaker and leader Benninghoff:
I am writing to publicly share my review of House Bill 2146, printer card number 2541 passed by the House State Government Committee on December 15 by a vote of 14-11, with a Republican member joining Democrats in opposing approval of the card. Before and after this vote, I was asked to negotiate a card with Republicans behind the scenes. Instead of conducting negotiations in this manner, I intend to provide my review of the proposed maps in a public forum, so that members of the General Assembly, as well as the public, can understand my evaluation process. .
Earlier this year, in preparation for the redistricting cycle now fully underway in Harrisburg, I convened a six-member Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Board with expertise in redistricting, political science and mapping, to establish a set principles to help guide my review of maps considered and ultimately adopted by the General Assembly.
The Council met on several occasions and subsequently held a series of eight in-person public listening sessions across the state, as well as a virtual public listening session, to seek public comment on the Principles and the redistribution process. The principles were finalized and made public at the end of November and consist of guidelines for meeting legal requirements, such as ensuring that population gaps between districts are in line with the Constitution, as well as guidelines for ensuring that communities of interests are upheld, representation is fair, and the public can meaningfully participate in the process.
House Bill 2146, Printer’s Number 2541 does not comply with the principles set out by the Redistricting Advisory Council. First, the population difference between the largest and the smallest district in HB 2146 is almost 9,000 people. Although I believe that the complete equality of the population must be balanced with other objectives such as maintaining communities of interest, the deviation from HB 2146 can be successfully challenged as unconstitutional.
This large population gap is the result of last-minute changes to the map submitted to the House State Government Committee by Amanda Holt, a Lehigh County resident and selected by President Grove. The gap between districts on the map Holt submitted was 1 person.
When Republican members of the House State Government Committee objected to aspects of Holt’s map, President Grove quickly ditched the pretext of a citizen-chosen map and redrawn the lines in a way that completely undermines them. principles that motivated Holt’s card in the first place. The result is a very asymmetric map.
Second, the revised map divides several communities of interest, including divisions in the counties of Luzerne, Dauphin, Philadelphia and Chester which do not appear to be motivated by compelling legal principles, but rather by a desire to make the districts more favorable. to Republican candidates.
Third, the Council also recommended that I review the proposed cards to determine if their expected performance is commensurate with voter preference statewide. The HB 2146 card does not meet this basic measure of partisan fairness, giving a structural advantage to Republican candidates that far exceeds the support of party voters. A comparison of Map HB 2146 to previous election results and to maps drawn neutrally, using rigorous mathematical methodology, demonstrated that Map HB 2146 would consistently offer Republican candidates a disproportionate number of seats compared to voter preferences. from Pennsylvania. This appears to be the result of intentional line art choices that favor Republican candidates.
Fourth, the manner in which President Grove has conducted the recent stages of this crucial process has been scandalous. Despite his promise to conduct the “most open and transparent congressional redistribution process in PA history,” it is not clear that he consulted even the Republican members of his own committee before select the Holt card – let alone the Democratic members, who were left out of the process altogether. And despite President Grove’s attempt to make up a narrative as he goes, there is no explanation for the changes that have been made, beyond the fact that some of them seem to correlate with the changes. complaints made by members of his committee when the original map was released.
Finally, I am very concerned about the timing of the final passage of this card. As Acting Secretary Degraffenreid noted in a June 28, 2021 letter to the leaders of the four legislative caucuses as well as the chairman of the Legislative Redistribution Commission, the State Department and county electoral councils have always needed at least three weeks to prepare the State-wide Uniform Register of Voters (“SURE”) to facilitate the nomination process, which is legally mandated to begin on February 15, 2022.
As a result, the acting secretary insisted in June that it “would be ideal if the ministry received a final approved legislative reallocation plan that has the force of law no later than January 24, 2022”. The House and Senate currently have four voting days scheduled for January 2022, of which the 24th is an extraordinarily compressed timeline for the passage of a Congress card, presentation for my consideration, and release. resolving any legal challenges that may arise, and further increases my concerns about the transparency with which this process is conducted. It is not clear why the General Assembly has not moved the process forward more quickly despite the time given to do so.
In short, the people of Pennsylvania are looking for a fair electoral map drawn in an open and honest manner. They neither want nor deserve a map drawn by selfish politicians seeking to nest with those of their political friends. They deserve better and so does our democracy.
When it comes to drawing electoral maps, the Constitution calls on us to do everything possible to ensure that the electoral process is fair. This is not an invitation to make cynical deals aimed at diminishing the importance of the vote. It is a recurring test of our commitment to the fundamentals of a healthy democracy. This is a test that HB 2146 fails.