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How will Allegheny County’s council districts be reapportioned?

The Census Bureau says it will continue its relaunch of limited field operations for the 2020 census next week in some rural communities in nine states.
Matt Rourke

Allegheny County Council does not have any set standards to guide the county council district reapportionment process. A proposed rule would establish a uniform process for the reapportionment of Allegheny County council districts.

Allegheny County addedmore than 27,000 residents over the last ten years, according to 2020 U.S. Census data. Now, county council districts need to be redrawn to account for the new population.

Under current rules, the council president decides how the reapportionment process will occur. But some have criticized that process, saying that the system could encourage gerrymandering and create districts that don’taccurately represent local communities.

Councilor Tom Duerr introduced a bill to address those concerns. He said Wednesday evening that the reapportionment process is too important to be decided again every ten years.

“The potential of gerrymandering is going to continue to persist, in my opinion, as long as elected officials continue to have their hands on the steering wheel when it comes to this process,” the District 5 Democrat said at a Government Reform committee meeting.

The ordinance would establish a five-person advisory reapportionment commission that would provide recommendations about reapportionment to council.

Political analyst Ben Forstate said redistricting has only grown in importance since the last census.

“One of the biggest changes from even ten years ago is the level of public scrutiny that has come about on redistricting,” he said. “Broadly, people are taking note of what maps look like in the end.”

Moving the reapportionment process out of the hands of elected officials could help insulate it from political pressure. It could also generate more competitive races across the county.

According to state law, county council would have the final say on the maps, and they could overrule the committee’s recommendation. But advocates say a new system could increase public trust in the process.

“A map that is drawn by professionals who are following neutral criteria is going to enjoy more public confidence than a map drawn by politicians,” said Ben Geffen, a staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia.

“Allegheny [County] has the opportunity to kind of be at the cutting edge by delegating some of this to an advisory commission,” Geffen said. “ I don’t think there’s certainly any legal barrier to impaneling an advisory commission.”

The proposal is currently in committee.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at