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Pennsylvania elections chief warns lawmakers about deadlines for redrawing districts

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania's top statewide elections official warned legislative leaders that delays in drawing new General Assembly district lines may require them to push back next year's spring primary election.

Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid told the floor leaders Tuesday for both parties in the two chambers on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission — and their chairperson — that the current schedule will not work.

“In short, it will not be possible to comply with the constitutionally mandated timeline for the finalization of the reapportionment plan, and the current statutorily established deadlines for the beginning of (the) petition circulation period and other subsequent deadlines leading up to the primary,” Degraffenreid said.

Senate Republicans have been warning for nearly a year that delays in census data might require the May 17 primary date to be delayed.

But on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said in a text that she would support having a later primary “only as a last resort.”

Degrafffenreid's letter comes less than a week after the reapportionment commission produced preliminary maps for the General Assembly. She said her department has begun the process of advertising the proposed maps.

Candidates and their supporters are scheduled to begin circulating nominating petitions to get on the primary ballot as of Feb. 15, but counties need about three weeks before that to prepare materials for the process. The petition circulation period is scheduled to end March 8.

Degraffenreid said people have until Jan. 18 to file objections to the proposed maps.

“And the whole process will be further impacted by the time necessary to file and consider any appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” she told the legislative leaders.

Congressional redistricting is done separately through legislation that must pass both chambers — currently with Republican majorities — and be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. It's unclear when the General Assembly will consider new districts that reflect a drop in the state's congressional delegation from 18 seats to 17.

As the pandemic was spreading throughout the country in March 2020, Pennsylvania lawmakers voted to delay that year's presidential primary by five weeks, from April 28 to June 2.