Pa.’s political calendar disrupted by leg. redistricting; Lawsuit asks state court to clean it up

Due to a mix of census data delays, a push to change where people in prison are counted, and rigid constitutional deadlines, the commission has yet to approve final legislative maps

By: - January 20, 2022 1:21 pm

*This breaking story will be updated

A group of Pennsylvania voters have filed a lawsuit asking state  judges to change the election calendar for state legislative candidates to get on the ballot amid delays in the redistricting process.

The suit, filed in Commonwealth Court on Thursday, is the first effort to rectify the misaligned timelines to finalize and implement the state’s legislative maps, and for candidates to successfully get on the ballot for the May 17 primary election.

In it, the plaintiffs — represented by Philadelphia attorney Adam Bonin, who often represents Democratic candidates — argue that using current legislative maps would diminish their representation due to population shifts in the commonwealth, and that a new map should be implemented for the 2022 election unless the court finds it unconstitutional.

On the former, the state’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission, a five-person commission that draws the 50 state Senate and 203 state House districts, has been at work crafting the lines since early fall.

But due to a mix of census data delays, a push to change where people in prison are counted, and rigid constitutional deadlines, the commission has yet to approve final legislative maps.

A final vote could come any day now; a source close to the commission indicated they hope to have a vote before the end of the month.

But once approved, the constitution gives aggrieved parties 30 days to file a legal challenge — a near certainty based on past redistricting cycles, the suit notes — while resolving those cases could take even longer.

At the same time, state election law allows candidates from Feb. 15 until March 9 to collect voters’ signatures in their electoral district to get on the ballot. This time period could be well underway or even finished by time legal challenges to the legislative maps conclude.

This could be fixed through legislative action to change the timeline for petitions or outright delay the primary, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly has appeared uninterested in taking such action. 

Particularly in the House, the GOP has instead argued that lawmakers should run on the current lines, drawn by a Republican-controlled panel last decade, rather than under the new maps, which are less favorable to the party.

However, with the General Assembly refusing to act, “the judiciary must take action as it has in the past— because both the United States Constitution and Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the statutory timeline yield to present realities,” the suit argues. “If the LRC has enacted a  constitutional redistricting plan, it should be allowed to take effect this year.”

The suit does not suggest a specific solution; Bonin told the Capital-Star that he expected just the timeline for petitions to change.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.