Politically Uncorrected: Chaos on the Susquehanna

A shock it was not.

The dramatic decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to strike down the state’s 2011 Republican-drawn congressional boundary lines was not a huge surprise. At some point, the egregious gerrymandering implemented in the state earlier this decade was bound to be struck down – both on the merits and the hard political fact that the state Supreme Court now sports a commanding 5 to 2 Democratic majority.

Might met right on this one and both prevailed in finding that the 2011 voting district lines violated the state constitution.

The rejected 2011 maps were designed to ensure that Republicans would dominate congressional elections in the state throughout the decade; they accomplished this brilliantly giving them 13 of 18 seats, despite Democrats holding an 800,000 active voter edge. They did this by creating some voting districts whose shapes are so horrendous they made Pennsylvania an ongoing national joke. One particular atrocious example is the seventh congressional district, one of the most gerrymandered in the nation. So grotesquely disfigured, it was nicknamed “Goofy chasing Donald Duck.”

Until now, the U.S. Supreme Court had put the issue of gerrymandering on the back burner when it decided that gerrymandering was not justiciable – essentially meaning court had not been able to develop a standard to decide how much gerrymandering violated the U.S. Constitution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court solved that particular legal nicety by simply finding the gerrymandered districts in violation of the state constitution.

But the story doesn’t end here. While most unbiased observers agree the Pennsylvania 2011 map had to go, many were shocked at the time frame imposed by the court ruling. The court gave the legislature an almost impossible three-week deadline to draw new lines – plus a few additional days to get agreement with the governor (he can veto any new legislative drawn map if he chooses).

Moreover, the court has issued a not so veiled threat that if no new map is produced by February 15th, they (the Supreme Court) will deal with the redistricting themselves. One suspects the court will cry no crocodile tears should the new map not materialize by the February deadline.

In fact, the court has already retained a widely known election law expert to assist them. Indeed, a court adopted map breaks no judicial precedents (it happened before in 1992) and it gives the court’s Democratic majority enormous advantage to produce a map more favorable to Democrats.

With five open Pennsylvania Republican House seats this year (Barletta, Dent, Meehan, Murphy, and Shuster), the opportunities for Democrats to pick up congressional seats may be unprecedented. The increasing expectation that 2018 may be a “wave election” against Republicans only underscores the stakes.

But opportunity for Democrats is chaos for Republicans as well as the voters of Pennsylvania.

The time frame imposed by the court is far too constricted. In trying to adhere to the May 15th primary schedule, it has set up a chain of unanticipated consequences that could make the cure worse than the disease. The legislature probably has the technical capacity to complete the task on time. But the court-imposed deadline leaves no time to gain political consensus. Republicans in control of the legislature have to get agreement with its own members as well as deal with minority Democrats, and gain the assent of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Nor is there time for other stakeholders in the process, such as congressional incumbents to testify or at least weigh in on the new geographic composition of the new map. Also, the plaintiffs and the public need a chance to express their views before the legislature as well.

Further complicating matters, there are more than 60 individuals who have announced (and more may still announce) that they are running in congressional races in the state. They have poured time and resources into the campaigns and it might turn out that they don’t even live in the districts they plan to run in.

Bottom line: the Supreme Court, righting one wrong, has created another. While rightly tackling Pennsylvania’s horribly gerrymandered congressional districts, they have unwisely unleashed an inherently unstable process that creates more problems than it solves. Fortunately, the court still has time to accomplish its original noble goal by extending the time frame to produce a new map by an additional 30-45 days.

Yes, this means the May 15th primary should be moved into June –and yes, a lot of important people in Harrisburg are going to be inconvenienced by that. But a congressional redistricting process that has robbed them of the right to fair elections for almost a decade is inconveniencing a lot more Pennsylvanians – about 12 million more.

We seem on the verge of fixing that. Let’s do it right

January 29th, 2018 | Posted in Front Page Stories, Guest Commentary, Top Stories | 12 Comments

12 thoughts on “Politically Uncorrected: Chaos on the Susquehanna”

  1. Motty says:

    This will not happen. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule Monday that there will be a stay. You can bank on that. I agree the map should be changed, but not for this election cycle. It is totally unreasonable and I’m disappointed in our Supreme Court for making such a ridiculous ruling.

  2. tommyd says:

    Madonna and Young want democracy to not be messy. I thought they were political scientists.

  3. Watching and Waiting says:

    Two idiots that could never claim to be unbiased – a joke of a column that tries to have it both ways: agreeing with a court ruling that has yet to be supported at all by the court, but criticizing the court for the remedy dictated by a court seemingly only interested in drawing a new map on its own, in likely violation of the U.S. Constitution.

    This whole court ruling violates both the letter and spirit of the Constitution, regardless of how unfair too many ignorant people think the process is, i.e. they believe they are guaranteed election outcomes and can get a stacked court to legislate those outcomes.

    1. tommyd says:

      It is gerrymandering that allows politicians to believe they are guaranteed election outcome. Voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around. Nor does the ruling violate the US constitution in letter and certainly not in spirit. The judicial branch is everywhere a check on the legislative.

  4. Ross Schriftman says:

    If this ends up having to be done, then using counties as the basis makes sense. Here are the numbers:
    2010 Census: Pennsylvania 12,702,379 divided by 18 seats=705,687 residents per district (The law is at 709,760. So this is very close)
    For Southeastern PA:
    Phila 1,526,006
    Montco 799,874
    Chester 498,886
    Bucks 625,249
    Delaware 558,979

    So they could come up with 2 for Philadelphia with the far Northeast being put into the Bucks County seat.

    Most of Montco could be it’s own district.
    Delaware and part of Chester as its own seat.

    Interestingly, right now their are 3 Democratic members representing Philadelphia. So, they could actually end up losing one and hoping they pick up a suburban seat.

  5. Andrew Byler says:

    Genuinely curious where the Pennsylvania Constitution addresses the drawing of Congressional maps. I’ve read it several times and cannot find a word of it within.

    What is really funny, is that if the Legislature decides to follow the criteria laid down by the Court regarding avoiding splitting counties and political subdivisions, they could easily draw a map that leans 14-4 Republican while only splitting Allegheny, Westmoreland, Centre, Delaware, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Berks, Huntingdon, Juniata, and one of the northern tier counties. The map would also dump Brendan Boyle into a Republican leaning district.

    Without excessively splitting counties, its actually harder to draw a Democratic leaning district in the Scranton area and Democratic leaning districts in the suburban Philadelphia area.

    1. MontcoWatch says:

      The PA Constitution contains no mention of the drawing of congressional districts.

  6. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

    “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court solved that particular legal nicety by simply finding the gerrymandered districts in violation of the state constitution.”

    Without justification, and so its an incorrect ruling.

    David Diano:

    The US Constitution Trumps the PA State Constitution. Since the US Constitution declares that ONLY the state legislature may deal with election issues, that means the PA State Constitution that allows the PA Supreme Court to deal with election issues is null and void.

    End of Line.

  7. David Diano says:

    Terry and Michael-

    This line you wrote is 100% pure bullsh*t:
    “The court gave the legislature an almost impossible three-week deadline to draw new lines – plus a few additional days to get agreement with the governor (he can veto any new legislative drawn map if he chooses).”

    The court case against the 2011 map had a computer expert create 500 random maps, ALL of which were less partisan than the existing map. Further, all 500 were scored as to their partisanship. SO THEY DON’T NEED TO BE ADJUDICATED FOR FAIRNESS, SINCE THEY WERE USED TO DETERMINE 2011 WAS UNFAIR.

    The GOP legislature can pick ANY map from the middle dozen of the 500 and it’s GOOD TO GO. They don’t need 3 weeks, or even 3 day or 3 hours.

    Map #237 is probably fine.

    Also, you wrote:
    “there are more than 60 individuals who have announced (and more may still announce) that they are running in congressional races in the state”

    F*ck them all with a hockey stick. The voting rights of 12 million Pennsylvanians are at stake, which outweighs 60 candidates (who can still run in their new districts, or any district in the state).

    There are only 18 slots, so 2/3 of them weren’t going to win anyway.

    If the GOP legislature fails to come up with a map in time (trying to run out the clock), the PA Supreme Court can pick from the 500 maps they already have, and be done with it in a day.

    Jeff Greenburg-
    Other states have primaries in June, or later. This is not insurmountable problem. Democracy and fair elections are worth a little inconvenience. Patriots have died to protect our voting rights and democracy. Working the polls for a day can be endured.

    Reasonable Rep:
    PA State Constitution: Section II.17.h

    “If a preliminary, revised or final reapportionment plan is not filed by the commission within the time prescribed by this section, unless the time be extended by the Supreme Court for cause shown, the Supreme Court shall immediately proceed on its own motion to reapportion the Commonwealth.”

    Given the 2011 map has been declared unconstitutional, and a NEW time set, the Court can reapportion, if a constitutional map is not produced by the deadline.

    Also, note, that many constitutionally acceptable maps already exist for the GOP to select.

  8. Reasonable Rep says:

    “Indeed, a court adopted map breaks no judicial precedents (it happened before in 1992) and it gives the court’s Democratic majority enormous advantage to produce a map more favorable to Democrats.”

    Even if unintentional, this is a highly misleading statement by the authors. In 1992, the court rejected a challenge to the Final Plan of the 1991 Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In doing so, it merely ordered that the map already drawn by the Commission be enacted in time for the 1992 spring primaries. The court DID NOT draw its own map, as is now being threatened by the current court in 2018.

    The United States Constitution is crystal clear on this. Article One, Section Four, Clause Three (Time, place, and manner of holding Congressional elections) reads as follows:

    “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [sic] Senators.”

    To date, Congress has not drawn the district maps for the states. Therefore, the map drawing power resides with the state legislatures. Not the state governors, not the state supreme courts, but the state legislatures.

    Any attempt by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to draw its own map and impose it on the Commonwealth would certainly, and rightly, be rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  9. Jeff Greenburg, Director of Elections, Mercer County says:

    One very critical piece of the puzzle omitted from this editorial is that of the counties that administer elections. It’s might feel easy to say just move the primary to June even if it’s going to inconvenience “a lot of important people in Harrisburg.” What is missing are the thousands of poll workers and polling locations that might not be available at some other random primary date. Counties have secured workers and locations for a specific date.

    There is no guarantee that those workers or sites being utilized for voting will be available at any other time. Please look past the partisanship surrounding this very important issue for one moment and focus on the abilities of counties to deliver the election.

    It’s not as simple as flipping a switch to secure workers and locations. If the primary is held on its current schedule, that would be no problem for counties. If it’s moved or bifurcated, as some have suggested, it could be problematic and as you so aptly note “set up a chain of unanticipated consequences that could make the cure worse than the disease.”

    1. Senator Schweiker says:

      Whoa- a real-life, commonsense response by what appears to be an actual human being correctly identified and involved in the matter at hand. How did this get through the PoliticsPA filters?

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