Redistricting: The Ins & Outs of the New House and Senate Lines
The country can now close the books on its decennial redistricting process as the last holdout — Pennsylvania’s state House and Senate maps — are now complete and street legal.
The Supreme Court voted unanimously in May to approve the second set of maps produced by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), which had been under review for nearly a year. As the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “In their unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, the three Republican and three Democratic justices concluded that the revised plan ‘complies with the Pennsylvania Constitution, which shall hereby have the force of law, beginning with the 2014 election cycle.’”
What follows is a look at some of the statistical quirks of our new districts. All state House members and those state Senators in even-numbered districts will run in the new districts in 2014. The state redistricting process re-balances the 203 state House and 50 state Senate districts to reflect changes in population within the state. Last decade saw strong growth in the Harrisburg – Lehigh Valley – Philly suburbs region plus Centre County, while most of western Pennsylvania and especially Pittsburgh, saw declines in population.
All the numbers quoted here are derived from the political data company Labels & List’s VoterMapping.com system. And remember that voter registration lists change every day as people move into new area and/or change their registration, etc.
Ironically, 111 House districts (55 percent) have more registered Democrats than Republicans while the GOP holds 111 (55 percent) of the seats in the Chamber. The House District with the most registered voters is the 137th (Joe Emrick – R) located in northeastern Northampton County, with 54,257 voters while the 127th (Tom Caltagirone – D) in Reading has the fewest, with just 26,104. That’s a whopping 108 percent swing between the number of registered voters in those districts– but remember that districts are drawn based on total population, not registered voters. This gives Emrick slightly more job security as well, since it would cost any challenger more money to message into that district via direct mail, which despite the rise in cable TV advertising, is still the dominant form of voter communication in most districts.
Remember too that Emrick’s part of the state has experienced strong growth since the Census was taken in 2010 while Reading has not, so the 137th has significantly more people now.
The 60th District (Jeff Pyle – R) in Armstrong and Indiana counties contains the most Republicans of any House District, with 24,982, while the 37th in Lancaster (Mindy Fee – R) has the highest percentage, 64.5 percent. Conversely, the House District with the fewest Republicans is the 201st (Stephen Kinsey – D) in Philadelphia, with just 1,199. (Imagine having to get GOP petition signatures in those neighborhoods.) The neighboring 200th District (Cherelle Parker – D) is home to the most Democrats, with 39,920, but Rep. Kinsey’s 201st owns the highest percentage of Democrats, at 91.5 percent.
Note the wide discrepancy between the most Republican registered district, the 37th which has 64.5 percent, and the most Democratic district, 91.5 percent. When analysts talk about the fact that Democrats are more highly clustered, this is what they are talking about. The 99th House District in Lancaster (Gordon Denlinger – R) has the fewest Democrats, with 6,157, or just 22.5 percent.
Incredibly, 17 House districts have more Independent voters than Republicans; not surprisingly they are clustered in Pittsburgh (19th, 23rd and 24th) and Philadelphia (175th, 181st, 182nd, 186th, 188th, 190th, 191st, 192nd, 195th, 197th, 198th, 200th, 201st, 203rd). Fourteen of those districts are represented by either African American or Hispanic Democrats; there are white Democrats in the other three — 23rd (Dan Frankel), 175th (Mike O’Brien) and 182nd (Brian Sims). The State College-centered 77th District (Scott Conklin -D) has the highest percentage of Independents in a district, at 26 percent.
Steve Santasiero of the 31st District (Bucks County) is the Democrat in the seat with the most Republican voters, while Rick Mirabito of the 83rd District is the Democrat in the district with the highest percentage of Republicans, at 48.5 percent. Both are perennial targets of the House Republican Campaign Committee, although Santasiero and Mirabito took 58 percent and 59 percent respectively in their 2012 re-elections.
Conversely, the Republican in the seat with the most Democratic voters is Joe Emrick of the 137th District. Interestingly, the GOP Representative with the highest percentage of Democrats (61 percent) is John Taylor — the new Chair of the Philadelphia Republican City Committee. Emrick won with 61 percent in 2012 while Taylor took 57 percent of the vote then.
In the upper chamber, 26 Senate districts (52 percent) have more registered Democrats than Republicans while the GOP holds 27 seats (54 percent) there.
The 4th District of Philadelphia & Montgomery counties (LeAnna Washington- D) has the most registered voters in the state, with 175,416. Meanwhile Republican Gene Yaw, of the 23rd District — part of Susquehanna, all of Lycoming, Bradford & Sullivan counties — holds the fewest voters, 123,849. That’s a 42 percent swing between the 4th and the 23rd.
Lancaster County’s 36th District (the retiring Mike Brubaker – R) contains the most Republicans of any Senate district, with 82,047. The 4th District has the most Democrats, with 133,436.
The 1st District (Larry Farnese – D) and the 3rd District (Shirley Kitchen -D), both in Philadelphia, each contain more Independents than Republicans. The new 40th District, of Monroe and Northampton counties, has the highest percentage of Independent voters, at 18 percent, while the 18th District (Lisa Boscola – D) in Northampton and Lehigh counties is the district with most Independent voters, with 27,244.
The Republican-held seat with the smallest percentage of GOP voters is the 16th, (Pat Browne), with just 36 percent. His seat loses its more Republican section in Monroe County and is now fully contained within Lehigh County. If re-elected next year, and barring any surprises elsewhere, he will represent the largest city (Allentown) of any member of his Caucus. Sen. Randy Vulakovich would represent a small portion of Pittsburgh should he run and win re-election next year in the much-altered 38th District. The Democrat-held seat with smallest percentage of Democrats is the 19th of Chester County, (Andy Dinniman) with 40.89 percent; he easily won re-election last year in his old district.
A veteran GOP political consultant, Christopher Nicholas serves as Political Director of the Pennsylvania Business Council where he manages their affiliated political action committee PEG PAC, the state’s oldest pro-business PAC.