Pa. Redistricting Reform Commission releases final recommendations

The purpose is to avoid what happened after the 2010 Census and led to a Congressional map called ‘the worst in Pennsylvania’s history,’ which had to be replaced.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two major undertakings after every Census, including the upcoming 2020, are reapportionment and redistricting. Pennsylvania now has an official recommendation to make redistricting, which it controls, fairer and smoother.

There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and they are divided up among states based on population numbers. Even the least-populated states get at least one representative. Think Delaware. Every state gets two senators, so that’s not an issue.

Then, states that gained population over the previous ten years could get more representatives than before, and states that lost population over the previous ten years could get fewer representatives than before. That’s reapportionment.

Every representative in every state should represent roughly the same number of people. (The exceptions are those states with tiny populations that automatically get their one representative.)

When the states learn how many representatives they’ll have for the next ten years, they’ll need to carve up a map with the correct number of districts, with each district having roughly the same number of constituents. That’s redistricting.

States gaining representatives will have to carve up more districts than before. States losing representatives will have to carve up fewer districts than before, meaning not every representative will be able to win reelection.

The difficult part is doing this fairly. Each political party wants to make a map so their candidates win more seats, and they carve up districts knowing which people are more or less likely to vote for them. They may put as many of their likely opponents as possible into one district, giving up that seat, but giving their party a better chance to win several other seats.

That’s called gerrymandering and can lead to very strangely-shaped districts, like the shape of a snake, consisting of constituents who really have little in common when it comes to important issues. Look at District 12, in the southwestern part of the map below, as an example.

Map of Pa. Congressional districts used in 2002-2010 elections, based on the 2000 Census.
The state had lost two representatives, going down from 21 to 19.

Here, look at Districts 11 and 15 in the east, and 12 in the west, as examples.

Gerrymandered map of Pa. Congressional districts used in 2012-2016 elections, based on the 2010 Census. The state did lose a representative, going down from 19 to 18.

That’s a reason it’s especially important to have a governor and state legislature who will do things fairly every ten years during redistricting.

Pennsylvania’s map from 2011, made from numbers that came from the 2010 Census, was not done correctly.

According to the Public Interest Law Center,

“Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional map had been labeled one of the top three starkest partisan gerrymanders in the country and the worst in Pennsylvania’s history.”

The group sued “on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and individual voters from each of the 18 districts.”

It “contended that in 2011, Pennsylvania-elected officials manipulated the congressional district boundaries to entrench a majority Republican delegation in Congress and minimize the ability of Democratic voters to elect U.S. House representatives.”

“The complaint alleged the … congressional map was designed to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into Pennsylvania’s 1st, 2nd, 13th, 14th and 17th districts. At the same time, the map was designed to spread the remaining Democratic voters among the other 13 districts so that Democratic voters fall short of a majority in each of these 13 districts. The net effect maximized the number of Pennsylvania congressional seats held by Republicans.”

On Jan. 22, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that map unusable for the upcoming May 15 primary. Then, the General Assembly didn’t submit a new congressional districting plan for approval by the governor. So, on Feb. 19, the court adopted a new Congressional map in time for the 2018 elections.

The Pa. Congressional delegation’s gerrymandered map after 2012 election:
13 Republicans (districts in red) and five Democrats (blue)
The Pa. Congressional delegation’s court-designed map for 2018 election:
nine Republicans and nine Democrats were elected, more in line with a swing-state.

“The new map was not drawn to favor either party and promotes all of the traditional district criteria that the court identified. It splits far fewer counties and municipalities, and is far more compact,” than the 2011 map.

Soon, it’ll be time to change that new map based on changes over the ten years between Censuses. (The same will happen with State House and State Senate maps, based on the 2010 Census.)

Last year, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed an executive order, creating a bipartisan 13-member Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission, to offer recommendations to avoid lawmaker tricks that had gone on the previous time.

The commission held nine public meetings around the state and took comments submitted online. It also reviewed the redistricting processes in states that had taken steps to reduce partisanship in redistricting.

Thursday, the commission released its final report with recommendations to improve the process of creating legislative district boundaries.

This is the result, in a nutshell, according to the commission’s press release:

“The commission is recommending the creation of an 11-member citizens commission to develop redistricting maps that would be submitted to legislators for approval. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders would each appoint five members, including two from the opposing political party. The governor would appoint the 11th member, a non-voting chairperson. To further reduce partisanship on the commission, anyone who has held an elected federal, state or judicial office, or has been employed in support of such a public official, or has registered as a lobbyist, would be ineligible to be a commission member.”

“The commission would hold public meetings and solicit online feedback.” Then, it would create “five maps that comply with the state constitution and have boundaries that are compact, contiguous and minimize division of counties and municipalities. The maps must also adequately reflect the interests of racial minorities.”

After that, the commission would make the maps available to the public and get more responses.

Finally, “Three maps would be provided to the legislature or a bipartisan body like the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which would choose one map without changes.”

Click here to see the complete report. Keep in mind, the commission’s report only contains recommendations for the governor and General Assembly.

And make sure you’re counted in the 2020 Census coming up in April, so Pennsylvania and our part of the state get its fair representation.


  1. From early October: Pa. citizens want end to gerrymandering, and survey shows sentiment cuts across party and geography
    Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly favor changing the way the state draws its legislative districts, according to a recent survey by F&M’s Center for Opinion Research in partnership with Fair Districts PA. That was consistent among a dozen demographic groups parsed by researchers. They also found the majority of respondents don’t think state lawmakers represent their communities well, in general, and the vast majority believe gerrymandering prevents elected officials from being held accountable and creates gridlock. includes a link to the survey topline.
    Speaking of legislative districts, PA Post editor Russ Walker put together this rundown of the Pa. congressional delegation’s web and social media accounts. Many in the delegation are already waging the public opinion fight over impeachment via Twitter.

  2. From the Committee of Seventy: Former members of the PA Redistricting Reform Commission wrote an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urging lawmakers to pass redistricting reform with “clear, consistent and accountable” values and criteria, and that gives citizens a say in a process that’s “straightforward, consistent and transparent.” Bills before the legislature would accomplish that, but they need to be passed this year because data from the 2020 Census will be released next spring.

  3. (from the Committee of Seventy) Prison gerrymandering: Inflating and diluting
    The practice of counting prisoners for Census purposes as residents of the prisons in which they’re incarcerated instead of where they lived beforehand “artificially and arbitrarily inflates” political influence in areas where prisons are located, and “artificially and arbitrarily dilutes” it in prisoners’ communities, according to an NAACP lawsuit ( filed in state court. “You couldn’t vote,” Abd’allah Lateef, a Philadelphian who was incarcerated in Greene County, PA, told The Inquirer ( “Yet, your body was counted to create power within small rural counties that otherwise would not receive the representation.”

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