Governor Wolf Rejects a New GOP Gerrymander for Pennsylvania

Governor Tom Wolf says a new GOP-drawn congressional map is just another unconstitutional gerrymander. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature last month to draw a new congressional map after declaring the current one an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state’s constitution, it laid down three pretty clear stipulations. The first and most important was to disregard partisan considerations and treat voters equally. The second and third were to, as much as possible, draw districts “composed of compact and contiguous territory” without dividing “any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”

Pennsylvania GOP legislators must have hoped that meeting two out of three elements of the order would be enough. The new map they presented to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf got rid of crazy-quilt districts that roamed through the countryside and regularly crossed local government boundary lines. But as Wolf quickly concluded in rejecting the plan, it was just as partisan as its predecessors.

The analysis by my team shows that, like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander. Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional.

A number of independent analyses of the new map reached the same conclusion. Brian Amos of the University of Florida told the Washington Post the old and new gerrymanders had almost identical effects on the partisan compositions of the districts:

In 2016, Donald Trump received more votes than Hillary Clinton in 12 out of Pennsylvania’s 18 districts. Under the Republicans’ new map, Trump would similarly outperform Clinton in exactly 12 districts.

Not only that, but the vote margins in each district would be virtually identical…. Across all 18 districts, the average difference in vote margins between the old and new map would be a little over four percentage points.

And thus, the unchanging bottom line, which is the ultimate aim of partisan gerrymanders:

Under the existing map, Democratic House candidates have routinely received roughly 50 percent of the statewide popular House vote but only five of the state’s 18 House seats. The new map is unlikely to change that.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman notes that the only real sacrifice Republicans seem to have made is to get rid of the egregiously weirdly shaped seventh district, whose GOP congressman, Patrick Meehan, recently announced his retirement under the cloud of a sexual-misconduct charge:

And as Princeton’s Sam Wang observes, the legislators made their intent plain by shutting Democrats out of the process entirely.

Well, now they are about to be shut out of the process themselves. With the legislature having failed to meet the court’s deadline for submitting a map that the governor could approve, the Post reports the court will turn the job over to “independent redistricting expert Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University to draw a new map from scratch.” And that map will be used right away for the 2018 elections. It won’t make life any easier for the House Republicans trying to hold onto control.

Gov. Wolf Rejects a New GOP Gerrymandered Map for PA