Redistricting Round-up: 15 Day Countdown


(One possible non-partisan Congressional map, courtesy of Daily Kos Elections)

In a major last-minute shake-up for Pennsylvania's 2018 elections, the state Supreme Court ruled this week that our current Congressional map is unconstitutional under the state constitution, and gave the legislature a short window to draw a new one. Here's what we know so far.

The legislature and Governor have until February 15th to agree on a new map

The Supreme Court's order ruled that the map is unconstitutional solely under the state constitution, and gave the General Assembly has until February 9 to draw a new one that meets certain principles. The Governor and legislature then have until February 15th to sign a new map into law. If they fail to do so, the PA Supreme Court will enact its own map by February 19th. The Court is accepting map submissions from other parties through February 15th.

Per the Court's order, any revised map must be based on neutral criteria: "congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population." 

Even though Democrats don't control either House of the legislature, they still have the upper hand because Democratic Governor Tom Wolf can veto any map that he deems too partisan, and if Wolf and the legislature can't agree on a map, then the Democratic-controlled Supreme Court will draw its own. Under the circumstances, Democrats will likely get a bluer Congressional map if Wolf and the legislature are still deadlocked on February 15th.

Republicans asked the Supreme Court for a stay

Emily Previti reports that PA Republicans have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay on the state Supreme Court's ruling throwing out the Congressional maps, claiming it violates the federal Elections Cause.

It's unclear that SCOTUS has an opening to intervene, however. That's because, at a minimum, the Congressional map has to be constitutional under the state constitution. 

"Plaintiffs — 18 Democrats represented by a legal team comprised mainly of attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center — had argued that the map was a political gerrymander designed to favor Republicans. They don’t think the nation’s top court will intervene because their case was based solely on the Pennsylvania constitution."

The May primary is unlikely to be delayed

The Wolf Administration told the Supreme Court that if a map is in place by February 20, they can administer the primary election on time on May 15th. There's been no determination on petitions yet, but the most likely outcome (based on conversations with election experts) seems to be that the petition window will remain the same for other offices (February 13th to March 6th), while nominating petitions for Congress could be delayed until sometime in March. 

Congressional campaigns are flying blind

Since nobody knows where exactly the eventual district lines will be, candidates for Congress have no idea whether they're running in a district where they'll still have residency once a new map is in place. Ryan Briggs captures this sentiment from Democratic campaign consultant Mark Nevins in a story for City & State.

“We don’t know where our candidates are, if we’re in competitive districts, if two of our candidates are going to be in the same district – it’s completely upended strategic planning that was taking place,” Nevins said. “How do you raise money now? You don't even know if they’re going to be in your district anymore. Some will always give, but it's more challenging.”

Already-launched Congressional campaigns are also looking askance at some of the state legislators who may want to run for Congress themselves, and will have a vote in the legislature on how the new maps are drawn. 

According to Emily Previti's report, Republican lawmaker Dave Reed, who this week announced his run in the 9th Congressional district, will recuse himself from voting on the map. So far no redistricting bill has been introduced, with just 15 days to go until the legislature's February 9th deadline. 

Check back for more redistricting news as this story progresses, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on this and other local political news.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.