Report: Pa. at ‘moderate risk’ for partisan gerrymandering | Thursday Morning Coffee

April 8, 2021 7:19 am

(Image via RepresentUS.)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers. 

This is one of those good news, bad news kind of stories.

With the once-a-decade redrawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional and legislative maps already underway, the bad news is that the Keystone State faces a moderate threat of being subjected to partisan gerrymandering. The good news is that, based on the map above, it could be a lot, a lot worse.

That’s based on the findings of the advocacy group RepresentUswhich bills itself as an effort to bring “together conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to pass powerful state and local laws that fix our broken elections and stop political bribery. Our strategy is central to dismantling the root causes of inequities in our democracy, and ending political corruption, extremism and gridlock.”

Pennsylvania, which knows a thing or two about corruption, extremism, and gridlock, gets its moderate threat rating because it boasts “some good protections against partisan gerrymandering and some key weaknesses,” according to RepresentUs’s ratings scale.

Nationwide, 35 states have “an extreme or high threat of having their election districts rigged for the next decade. The redistricting laws in these states provide little protection against politicians manipulating district maps for partisan or personal gain,” the report reads.

And “unless these systems change in the next few months, more than 188 million people will live with the threat of gerrymandering and rigged maps for the next 10 years. More than half of all states have laws that put them at an extreme risk of rigged maps. That includes red states and blue states, large and small, across the Northeast, West, Midwest, and South; from Illinois to Georgia, Wyoming to Massachusetts to Texas.”

After the jump, a look at some of those strengths and weaknesses for Pennsylvania.

2011 House redistricting plan via Pa. Legislative Redistricting Commission.

First up, the state gets a mixed rating on the potential for political interference in how the maps are drawn, with a “high” risk assigned to the congressional remapping process, and a “moderate” risk assigned to the legislative remapping process.

That’s because, as RepresentUS notes, the congressional redistricting process is done by a vote of the Republican-controlled General Assembly, while legislative remapping is done by a 5-member commission, comprised of the four floor leaders in the House and Senate, with a (theoretically) impartial chairman there to break ties. As the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported earlier this month, the commission is now accepting applications for that coveted fifth seat.

The state gets a “moderate” risk rating for the transparency of its redistricting process, with RepresentUS noting that there “are no requirements around public participation in the congressional redistricting process, including public hearings, open data, and public submissions. For state legislative maps, the commission must post its plan and hear public comment before passing plans.”

(c) 3desc –

The report further gives the state a “moderate” risk of ending up with maps being rigged for partisan gain. And, yes, FairDistricts PA, we can hear you laughing from here.

More astute readers will recall the progressive majority on the state Supreme Court tossed Pennsylvania’s congressional map ahead of the 2018 elections and imposed one of their own after concluding that it had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The legislative redistricting process has resulted in maps rendering some seats effectively challenger proof, what with self-preservation being a largely bipartisan instinct.

The RepresentUS analysis further assigns “moderate risk” ratings on its assessment of Pennsylvania’s legal standards for redistricting (compactness, contiguity and communities of interest — the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance of mapping best practices) and whether rigged electoral maps are tough to challenge in court.

If there’s an upside to all this, it’s the report’s bottom line observation that “Pennsylvania has divided government. The governor is a Democrat. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature but do not have the supermajorities needed to overturn a gubernatorial veto. Because of this, the Legislature and governor are likely to either adopt a compromise [congressional] map or deadlock on congressional redistricting, in which case a court will draw the lines.”

Any legal dispute over the legislative lines, meanwhile, goes straight to state court, which can, and does, lead to a protracted fight — as was the case in 2011.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Former Kansas secretary of state, and Trump loyalist Kris Kobach, met with legislative Republicans on Tuesday night to talk about election and immigration policyStephen Caruso reports.

The state House has passed a bill reopening the statutory window for old child abuse lawsuits, splitting the chamber’s GOP majority, Caruso also reports.

LGBTQ advocates have slammed a bill that would ban transgender women from participating women’s interscholastic athletics, opinion contributor Frank Pizzoli writes.

Officials are telling Pennsylvanians to be careful in the woods as the commonwealth enters peak wildfire season, Cassie Miller reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, there’s a surprising ending to all the 2020 election conflicts over absentee ballot deadlines, including Pennsylvania, a New York University Constitutional Law scholar writes. And opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz, who teaches law at Duquesne University Law School, looks ahead to the next big challenge to the rule of law: identifying judges solely by the president who appointed them.

Image via WikiMedia Commons)

The Inquirer
 considers how school districts will get kids back on track after what amounts to a lost year of learning.
In a visit to Pittsburgh, Gov. Tom Wolf told locals that the ‘vaccine is winning,’ the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive takes a look at the state of air travel as pandemic restrictions lift.
An ongoing rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in Lancaster County is spurring concern, LancasterOnline reports.
Tougher penalties are on the way for Pa. motorists who refuse to pull over for emergency vehicles, the Morning Call reports.
Officials in Luzerne County are still looking for someone to run the election board, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
The York Daily Record wonders whether Pennsylvania will mandate vaccine passports (paywall).

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Hunter Sopak🤗 (@huntersopak2005)

Montgomery County has received its largest vaccine shipment so far, WHYY-FM reports.
Thousands of people in Pa. prisons will be offered the vaccine, Spotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).
An Erie man wanted in a killing has been found in Brooklyn, GoErie reports (paywall).
Gov. Tom Wolf says he hopes all state adults will have received their first shot by the second week of May, the Observer-Reporter reports. 
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have put U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, and Scott Perry, R-10th District, on their initial must-defeat list for 2022, PoliticsPA reports. explains why the delay in Census data will spell election chaos for states.
Congressional Democrats are looking to extend new insurance subsidies ahead of the 2022 mid-terms, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House and Senate are both out today. But there’s a full slate of committee action. First up, the House:
9 a.m, G50 Irvis.: House Health Committee, a public hearing on a trio of bills restricting access to abortion
12 p.m., 515 Irvis North: House State Government Committee, a public hearing on how other states conduct their elections
1:30 p.m., Zoom: Joint State Government Commission
3 p.m., 418 Main Capitol: House Democratic Policy Committee, a public hearing on environmentally toxic schools
In the Senate, budget hearings continue before the Senate Appropriations Committee. All sessions are live-streamed from the Senate chamber.
10 a.m: Department of Labor & Industry
2 p.m.: Department of Agriculture

Bitter Oats.
Are you mad at mega-oat milk brand Oatly this week? Wondering why everyone on Twitter is? Inside Hook explains the social media blow-up.

Heavy Rotation.
If you listened to pop records in the 1980s, then you definitely heard the legendary Pino Palladino’s sinewy fretless bass parts (think Paul Young’s ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.’). It’s taken him 40 years, but Palladino is finally out with his first solo record, the lovely and ambient ‘Notes with Attachments.’ It’s just the sort of thing to get your Thursday morning off to a chill start.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
I’m just going to savor the moment: The Orioles are in first place in the AL EastThat’s all.

And now you’re up to date.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.