Redistricting at the state and federal level set to transform Pennsylvania’ political landscape

The+new+congressional+map+for+Pennsylvania+will+now+include+conservative+Carbon+county+into+the+Lehigh+Valleys+seventh+Congressional+District.%28Photo+courtesy+of+Pennsylvania+Capital-Star%29

The new congressional map for Pennsylvania will now include conservative Carbon county into the Lehigh Valley’s seventh Congressional District.(Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Jacob Moldover, Contributing Writer

Pennsylvania is currently undergoing both Congressional redistricting and redistricting of the state legislative map. These processes will determine the federal and statewide political landscapes for the next decade.

This process is highly political and has been running later than planned.

“Redistricting has run late because the 2020 census was plagued with problems, including the pandemic. Good population data for redistricting was not available until October,” Government and Law Professor John Kincaid said.

The redistricting process was further complicated by the fact that Pennsylvania lost a congressional seat in the 2020 census, forcing Democrats and Republicans to fight over who loses a projected seat.

“Redistricting after a seat loss is always more politically contentious than otherwise,” Kincaid said. “Redistricting is done by the state legislature, which is majority Republican. The legislature approved a slightly amended redistricting map drawn by a former Republican Lehigh County commissioner, Amanda Holt. Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed the map and proposed his own map. After Wolf’s veto, redistricting went to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.”

Fiona Simpson, president of the Lafayette College Democrats, said that the political nature of this process has made it more contentious.

“The conflict between parties has led to a lot of deliberation, with fifteen maps proposed and none passed yet,” Simpson said. “Now that the courts have taken over this process, it will likely be over soon. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court leans Democratic, so that will likely lead to an increase in Democratic seats over Republican seats.”

Simpson hopes this will be the outcome.

“[I] like Gov. Wolf’s proposed map, which is more likely to pass and would result in the loss of one Republican-leaning seat, but other than that things remain mostly similar to the old map,” she said.

Caroline Ross ’22, the president of the Lafayette College Republicans, didn’t have a position on the redistricting process and that she “does not feel comfortable making general statements on the club’s behalf because everyone has their own individual opinions.”

Regardless of partisan lean, the eventually decided upon map will have national significance.

“Today, the U.S. House has two hundred and twenty-two Democrats and two hundred and twelve Republicans. So, Democrats are desperate to hold onto seats; Republicans are desperate to capture more seats,” Kincaid said. “Therefore, we’re seeing a lot of gerrymandering. Democratic states like Illinois are gerrymandering for Democrats; Republican states like Texas are gerrymandering for Republicans. In split states like Pennsylvania, there is contention.”

It also will likely impact the Lehigh Valley. The loss of a Congressional seat will mean different boundaries for the 7th district, which Lafayette is located in.

“The legislature’s map makes slight changes to the 7th congressional district, which includes much of the Lehigh Valley. This could make it easier for a Republican to defeat Representative Susan Wild, who was first elected in 2018 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court mandated its own map,” Kincaid said.

Redistricting of the state legislature is also ongoing, which is conducted through what is often considered a less political process.

“Legislative redistricting is done by a bipartisan five-member commission—the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission. Four of the members are the majority and minority leaders of the state House and state Senate,” Kincaid explained. “They select a fifth person to be chair. The legislature and governor play no role in the process.”

He added that the Commission submitted its final map on Feb. 4, 2022.

However, Kincaid added that any state resident who objects to the map can appeal directly to the state Supreme Court within 30 days of Feb. 4.

“Republicans will challenge the proposed state House map because they believe it is a Democratic gerrymander even though it still favors Republicans, just less so than in the past,” he said.

In a May 2021 interview with The Lafayette, Kincaid suggested some action steps for Lafayette students who are interested in the redistricting process.

“Students could contact members of the legislature and the governor directly, saying they want a fair map that’s fair to both of the political parties.”

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a U.S. House map composed of eight Republican-leaning, six Democrat-leaning and three swing districts. The new map keeps PA-7, the district which includes Lafayette, largely intact, with the addition of Carbon County.