Wolf vetoes GOP congressional map, courts to pick Pa.’s redistricting plan

‘The people of Pennsylvania deserve a fair election map that promotes accountability and responsiveness to voters and is drawn in an open and honest way,’ Wolf said in his veto message

By: - January 27, 2022 9:49 am

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaking with the press. Governor Tom Wolf visited Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Cumberland County Friday, July 31, 2021 to highlight the importance of outdoor spaces to our well-being during the pandemic and announce a plan for Pennsylvania’s state parks of tomorrow (Commonwealth Media Services photo).

*This story was updated at 12:24 p.m. 1/27/22 with comment from state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed legislative Republicans’ congressional map, arguing it was “the result of a partisan political process” and will deprive voters of free and fair elections.

The document, based on a map drawn by redistricting advocate and former GOP Lehigh County commissioner Amanda Holt, passed the General Assembly along near-party lines this month. Now, picking a map will fall to the state’s Commonwealth Court, who will pick a map from 14 submissions after court hearings this week. Among the submissions are the map Wolf vetoed, and one the governor proposed himself.

In November, Wolf offered standards for a map, designed by a panel of academics, that would earn his signature. He asked for a transparent process and a compact, responsive, partisanly proportional map. The proposed GOP map, Wolf argued, met none of these requirements.

“The people of Pennsylvania deserve a fair election map that promotes accountability and responsiveness to voters and is drawn in an open and honest way,” he said in his veto message. 

Courts likely to pick Pa. congressional map after Wolf, Legislature fall short

Instead, the Legislature’s map was “selected by politicians to take advantage of the process and choose their own voters.” 

The House held about a dozen hearings on redistricting before picking the map from among a handful of citizen submissions. 

But Republicans have been unclear on why they chose the Holt map at all. House State Government Committee Chairperson Seth Grove, R-York, emphasized that maps needed to have equal populations down to the person — an exacting standard up for some debate. Holt herself even disagreed with it in public testimony on her map in December.

Listening to GOP lawmakers, Pa. House committee doesn’t vote on citizen-drawn map

In a statement, Grove said that Wolf’s veto meant he had “picked political brinkmanship” by “unnecessarily requiring the courts to address congressional redistricting, instead of joining the General Assembly in adopting the first ever citizen-drawn map which did not use partisan data in the development of the map.”

That standard was also not made clear to those trying to submit maps to the committee this fall, lowering the number of submissions, according to redistricting advocacy groups.

In an email this week, Carol Kuniholm, the executive director of the redistricting reform group Fair Districts PA,  said just four maps submitted to the House’s portal met Grove’s population standard. Of those, Holt’s was the least compact —one of the few standards for districts mentioned in the state constitution.

The map also had the highest partisan bias of the zero-population deviation maps, according to a Campaign Legal Center analysis, resulting in Republicans picking up an extra seat in a 50-50 election, Kuniholm argued. 

The map “does not reflect the criteria we asked for, the community input we provided, or our hopes for a genuinely transparent, citizen-led process,” Kuniholm said. She called on Wolf to veto it.

There was just one hearing on the map after Grove picked it, at which some Republicans on his committee expressed opposition. 

Grove then skipped a scheduled vote on the map before it was amended two days later to unite a handful of rural Republican counties that committee members had complained about. The map then passed the committee, advancing to the full House.

Since then, it has not been changed, and seen little debate.

It passed the House 110-91 earlier this month, with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. 

The Senate then sent it to Wolf’s desk on Monday by a party line vote of 29-20 — even though the Democratic governor  already had expressed his opposition to the map in a December letter.

Wolf only offered his own map earlier this month when it became clear the courts, and not the Legislature and the executive branch, would pick a map. 

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Wolf once again argued that it was not his place to haggle over where to put particular lines, arguing that “the Constitution gives me a limited role. I can only accept or veto. It’s my choice.”

The map sent to him, Wolf argued, was created by an insider process. In future cycles, he hoped it wouldn’t be repeated. 

“If I were drafting the Constitution, I would want to make sure that the citizens are drawing the maps for their democracy,” Wolf said.

Citizens, however, will play little role in the courts. Fourteen maps from 10  petitioners were submitted to Commonwealth Court on Monday. Seven of them were submitted by elected officials.

The court will hold hearings on Thursday and Friday, and pick a map to implement by Sunday. The Commonwealth Court’s decision could then be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

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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.