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Pennsylvania election officials argue against GOP bid to use old maps

Carolyn Kaster

It would be premature for the state Supreme Court to order Pennsylvania's legislative elections this year to be held based on old maps of state House and Senate districts, top state elections officials told the justices in a new court filing.

Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman and Jessica Mathis, director of the state Bureau of Election Services and Notaries, argued in a filing made Wednesday that House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff's request to use the old maps “is without foundation in law or fact.”

Benninghoff, R-Centre, was the lone “no” vote in the 4-1 decision on Feb. 4by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission to adopt new General Assembly maps that take into account population shifts reflected in the 2020 census.

Benninghoff sued a week ago, asking the high court to throw out the new district plan and to declare that this year's elections be run based on district lines adopted in 2013.

Those who object to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission's end product have until March 7 to file appeals and briefs. So far Benninghoffand a group of Butler County residentshave filed such appeals.

The Department of State, under Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, argued a decision to use old maps this year is not appropriate unless the state Supreme Court first rules the commission's final plan to be unconstitutional. The agency's top officials also argued that at this stage, the new sets of district boundaries can get the court's final OK soon enough that the justices will not have to delay the May 17 primary election.

Lawyers for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, in a separate filing, said running 2022 elections based on 2013 maps would mean using “unconstitutionally malapportioned districts" and argued the commission's maps are “superior to the plan currently in effect in just about every metric” under state constitutional standards for redistricting.

Benninghoff argues the House maps are slanted in favor of Democrats and violate state constitutional standards in splitting municipalities and by how much some districts would vary from the average district’s population size.

He also claims that by creating districts that encompass significant numbers of Black, Asian and Latino voters, the reapportionment “illegally draws to a racial target.”

Both legislative chambers are firmly in Republican hands, even though Pennsylvania voters have repeatedly demonstrated the state is narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans. All 203 state House seats and half the 50-member Senate are up for election this year.