Costa Offers New Path for Congressional Redistricting

Congressional MapsState Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) is proposing a bill to change the way Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are drawn ahead of the 2020 census.  

Since Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are drawn through the same procedure that a regular bill goes through, changing the procedure can be done without a Constitutional amendment.  This differs from what would be required for changing the reapportionment procedure.  

According to The Incline, Costa is introducing a bill to create a five member panel made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one who is not registered to either party.  The panelists will be vetted by the secretary of the commonwealth to ensure they have never sought an elected office or was appointed to a government position among other qualifications.  

Costa says that his proposal will take redistricting out of the hands of elected officials.  

Pennsylvania will likely lose at least one Congressional seat after the 2020 census.  This makes the next map redrawing even more important for Democrats, who will want to gain more than the five seats they currently hold.  

Costa did not tell The Incline how many cosponsors he believes the bill will get, or the chances of the bill becoming law.  The bill has a larger likelihood of becoming law if it is passed during the current session, or if Governor Tom wins re-election next year.

36 Responses

  1. We don’t need to get overly fancy with algorithms or multi-reviews. We just need to follow the constitution and use ONLY census population data (not voting patterns, economic data or illegal racial data) and not divide jurisdictions. (My Kennett Township is gerrymandered by precinct!) Greg McCoy

  2. Our Founders were pretty skeptical about human nature so built in safeguards. But they didn’t think about gerrymandering. PA House and Senate districts aren’t ideal, but at least last time around the PA Supreme Court sent the maps back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission for a redo.

    Why could round 1 of PA House and Senate be stopped while absurdly gerrymandered US Congress districts sailed right through? Because the PA constitution says:

    “The Commonwealth shall be divided into fifty senatorial and two hundred three representative districts, which shall be composed of compact and contiguous territory as nearly equal in population as practicable. Each senatorial district shall elect one Senator, and each representative district one Representative. Unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.”

    Why can’t the same “compactness” criterion be extended to congressional districts? That would end the “Bullwinkle district” and similar absurdities forever!

    1. Good points, Nathaniel. The problem with gerrymandering is how to get rid of it, or at least minimize it, without creating a worse problem. On the state level, Pennsylvania has done well. Part of it is due to the state’s large number of legislators.

      It’s good that there is a constitutional basis for Pennsylvania’s legislative districts to be compact and contiguous. And that there is a willingness to challenge perceived violations of this provision.

      The map of state house districts shows an effort to conform to the constitutional guidelines. There are few “Bullwinkles” in most of the state, with some exceptions in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. There are some strangely shaped districts not very compact nor contiguous, and a few apparent cases of Bullwinkling. But it’s not the norm found in some states.

      We should wonder if the system used for state legislative district configurations can carry to our Congressional districts. This will likely be a difficult and possibly unworkable venture until census results let us know whether the state will lose 1 or 2 Representatives in Congress. A few years, but still a long time in politics.

      1. That is a part of the problem, PA has lost Congressional seats every census since 1930. The current number of members of congress was set, I believe in 1911 and has not kept up with what the Constitution allows.

  3. A word of caution is in order before we are taken in by the smooth-talking “reformers”. Oh, and BTW, make sure we have checked for Soros-funded organizations and projects in all this, just so we know.

    The reality is that Gerrymandering benefits our political system and will remain with us in some form or other. Congressional districts are subject to change from census to census. Each time there will be new bells and whistles for those advocating how do to it. But the need for political parties to ensure election outcomes will remain.

    Computer-drawn districts offer new possibilities for gerrymandering. All the politicians who control the re-districting have to do is tell the programmers what they want and they will come up with districts crafted to ensure the desired election and re-election results. And they will look nice and compact, without bizarre boundaries, etc., that the old gerrymandered districts had. But they will be gerrymandered all the same.

    There is no easy answer to all this. At the end of the day, the best way to get good elected officials is for an informed, involved public to do this at the ballot box. Simply reshuffling the electoral precincts cannot by itself do this.

    1. Take advantage of technology; Geographic Information Systems have no political affiliations. Set the criteria, population for example, and let the computer create the districts.

      1. All good points, John. However, those who implement the technology do have political affiliations. And so do the “watchdogs” in all the plans I’ve seen so far regarding oversight. I’m not sure there is any good way to go forward with this absent requiring periodic changes in redistricting, and a referendum to approve such changes.

        And there is the issue of accountability. Right now the gerrymandered districts we have are the product of agreement among politicians. Not the best by any means, but they are elected officials with some accountability. How accountable would a commission tasked with “reform” be?

        We certainly have the tools at our disposal to change the current system. My concern is that a new system might prove as faulty and even more resistant to change than the old one. And until oversight and accountability issues are settled to resolve public concerns, we should be very cautious of doing anything too quickly or too rashly.

    2. You can argue that this, that or another system designed to eliminate gerrymandering is better or worse than another. But to posit that gerrymandering is good for the political system reveals a profound ignorance that may – or may not- be willful. In brief legislators are discouraged from working in a bipartisan fashion. Instead they pander to their own party’s base. That point is not only obvious but important. Take a look at Washington and decide if gerrymandered Congressional Districts make for good government.

      1. John, I’m not defending gerrymandering. It was not part of our political system, but is the result of an electoral innovation by legislators in the early Republic that has persisted, for better or worse, since that time. The reason it is still with us today is because elected officials, and their parties, find it useful to ensure a degree of predictability in electing, and re-electing, officials.

        Gerrymandering and the politics associated with it is thus a mutation of our political system, and not a necessary evil that has to be part of it. Maybe we can get rid of gerrymandering, or at least the classical system and results we associate with it. But can we address the causes for it, and which have sustained it, since the early 19th Century? And in so doing, can we replace it with anything better?

        The argument over which system could replace the current system of gerrymandering is a necessary one in any discussion of electoral reform. Notice I said “replace the current system” instead of “eliminate”. Why? Because the party in power at the time of any putative reforms will do its best to ensure that any electoral advantage it may have is preserved.

        We certainly can get rid of the current system. One issue we should worry about is what replaces it, and if a new system is any better than the old. Another issue is how we can ensure that any effort to replace the current system is as transparent and accountable as possible.

        At present, it might be wise to not rush to change the system that may result in more problems than we have at present. And those advocates calling for a change to the system that does not have proper oversight or public buy-in have to be looked at carefully. There is more than one agenda at work behind electoral reform at the present time.

        1. Correction about gerrymandering, paragraph 1: It was not part of our constitutionally-set political system.

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  5. The algorithm could be designed with a “seed” based on starting point.

    For example: Let’s say it generates 3 separate maps based on starting points of Philly City Hall, Pittsburgh City Hall and the Harrisburg Capital.

    All three maps are going to be very similar in terms of smooth/compact districts. Lawmakers or a panel could vote on which of the three maps.

    Clearly one would be more favorable to the Dems, one more to the GOP and the third in the middle. But, even then, the difference would be slight in terms of advantage and much fairer than what we have now, so it wouldn’t really much matter which map got picked. Though, there would be some pressure by voters and fairness advocates to pick the middle one.

    This is really f*cking simple folks.

    1. Rare for me to agree with Diane, but if this were to be combined with computer generated divisions , with experts from out of state- like Silicon Valley, plus a Philly, Pittsburgh, central Pa contribution it might work.

  6. Fuhgetaboutit! Santorum and Hart put the old gerrymander together to help us elect our doofus Rothfus who couldn’t find his way off the turnpike in a snowstorm
    We saved him and he pushes la familia’s agenda so we can keep on stackin’.uncle Charlie says it’s all good, man but he’s still a big dope.

  7. Grow up, folks. Pennsylvania was a Republican gerrymander. Illinois was a Democratic one. Where is the outrage industry about Illinois or, closer to home, Maryland?

  8. This process has been screwed since both political parties got their hands on computer technology that allows them to draw lines specific to voters. As others have said, the restore We The People power, the lines must be drawn on population ONLY, NOT political affiliation or voting trends.

  9. Of course he supports the half-measure of the congressional district map. Those arent drawn by the commission that, it just so happens, the Dems will control after the 2020 census. He of course wont say, but this proposal is a fall back in case Wolf loses re-election.

  10. Costa’s bill is better than our Supreme Computer Overlords telling us how to redistrict. But why not let the LRC just do Congress too? That would be an easy fix.

    1. Altering the powers of the LRC, a constitutionally created body, might require an amendment to the PA constitution. Creating a parallel body by statute might avoid that pitfull.

  11. Wouldn’t adopting the state legislative redistricting model with an additional requirement that 4 out of the 5 members supporting a map make sense?

    1. No. We have to get away from legislators picking their voters and get back to people picking their legislators. When it comes to assuring safe districts, legislators of both parties have more common interests with each other than they have with voters.

  12. Getting redistricting out of the hands of the political parties is essential. PA voters are saying clearly to elected officials, “This is our Commonwealth. You work for us. We don’t want you to have this role. Give it back to us.” All elected officials at every level should heed this call and help satisfy this demand.

    1. Ah…noble…and just Howe is that going to happen? The voters are a bunch of sommanabitch dumb basturds and that’s Howe we run city hall. Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the momey was. Goverment is pur bank and reformers, stand up citizens and the feffen bee eye cant’ stop us because we own a piece of everybody.

  13. The rules should be that no party affiliation nor election outcome data should be used to draw the maps. Only census data and county/municipal/precinct boundaries and some mathematical level of compactness. The current addresses of current elected officials should not be used either.

    There are MANY computer algorithms that can draw fair districts with nothing but that data (and using some of the census racial data to accommodate the voting rights act).

    Pick several programs/algorithms that meet this criteria. Vote on the algorithm and you don’t need a panel.

    1. Not sure why racial data should be used. We should be party blind and race neutral. One vote is one vote. There should not be “special” districts for anybody.

      1. There are considerations needed to protect minority voters from being disenfranchised. It’s possible that even a race-blind random redistricting could produce a result effective similar to a purposely racist gerrymander. It’s unlikely, but a check still needs to be made.

        It’s not making a special district for blacks or other minorities, it’s making sure that they aren’t overly diluted into white districts.

        One vote isn’t one vote: gerrymandering proved that.

        The check is needed to avoid accidental gerrymandering

        1. Isn’t this the same type of group politics that reformers are trying to eliminate?

          And wouldn’t it be best for minorities to be part of the political mainstream? Why should there be any special treatment for them?

          1. Seneca-
            NO. It’s a check to make sure that their votes and representation aren’t diluted into multiple districts in an extreme way that disenfranchises them. Your “argument” is the same old bullsh*t pretending that minorities aren’t in need of protections from efforts to take away their rights.

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