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New Maps Could Improve Democrats' Chances In Pennsylvania

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA




Democrats' chances at picking up congressional seats in Pennsylvania likely would improve under new models of district boundaries drawn to replace the Republican-drawn boundaries thrown out in a high-stakes gerrymandering court case, independent analysts said Friday.

Pennsylvania's congressional district map was so tortured in a bid to favor Republicans that making boundaries more compact and reducing county splits in key areas will naturally favor Democrats, said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

In particular, Democrats should be much more competitive in moderate southeastern Pennsylvania.

"The very act in that (southeastern) part of the state of trying to keep districts that both recognize county lines and are compact will de facto help the Democrats," Borick said.

Submitting maps ahead of Thursday night's court-ordered deadline were the group of registered Democratic voters who sued successfully to invalidate the current map, plus Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Democratic lawmakers and a group of Republican activists who intervened in the case. Republican lawmakers submitted a plan last week.

Pennsylvania's 6-year-old map is widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered. Tearing it up could boost Democrats nationally in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House and dramatically change the state's predominantly Republican, all-male delegation. Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters could find themselves in different districts barely a week before they can start circulating petitions to run.

The divided state Supreme Court now starts on a four-day stretch to impose new boundaries no later than Monday, under a timeline the justices set to keep May's primary election on schedule. Republican lawmakers say they will swiftly ask federal judges to block any new map.

Republicans on Friday also came to the conclusion that the Democrats' proposed map models will help Democrats, and called them gerrymandered for that reason.

However, an analysis conducted through did not conclude that Democrats' proposed maps would create a gerrymander the opposite way.

Rather, the mathematical metrics used by the organization found that Democrats' maps would reduce the partisan tilt in the boundaries that currently favor Republicans, but — except for one measurement of one proposed map — leave boundaries that favor the GOP.

The two maps submitted by Democratic voters squeezed the most partisan tilt out of the boundaries, according to estimates by PlanScore, which was created by political scientists, legal scholars and digital mapmakers.

Brian Amos, a doctoral student in political science at the University of Florida, analyzed the proposed maps and found that the ones submitted by Wolf and lawyers for the Democratic voters would generally improve Democratic prospects.

For instance, Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Republican Donald Trump in six of Pennsylvania's congressional districts in 2016. Under the map submitted by Wolf, Clinton would have won seven districts and, based on rough estimates, Clinton would have won eight districts under the maps submitted by lawyers for the Democratic voters, Amos said.

The Democratic-majority court ruled 5-2 along party lines last month that Pennsylvania's map of congressional districts unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria, such as keeping districts compact and eliminating municipal and county divisions.

To replace it, the justices could pick a submitted map, or rely on one drawn by Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily, who has assisted judges drawing districts in North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor's office after the 2010 census drew the districts to elect Republicans, and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections, even though Pennsylvania's statewide elections are often closely divided and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

In drawing it, Republicans broke decades of precedent and created bizarrely shaped districts that Franklin & Marshall College political scientist G. Terry Madonna called "the worst gerrymander in modern Pennsylvania history."

*This post was updated on Friday, Feb. 2 at 5:21 p.m. to include additional context.