The Pennsylvania Judicial Center (at top) in Harrisburg, where court arguments over gerrymandering are being heard
By Andrea Sears, Public News Service
For The Post Publications
HARRISBURG PA – The state’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday (Jan. 17, 2018) in a case that could redraw Congressional districts across Pennsylvania, potentially including those involving western Montgomery County residents.
Depending on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in the case the practice may continue unchanged or, if plaintiffs win, new district maps may be required. With that decision, maps might have to be set by Feb. 21 for May 15 primary elections, or the primary could be delayed.
Eighteen Democratic voters, one from each of the state districts, argued that political “gerrymandering” of their districts has been so extreme it deprives them of their right to fair elections. The term refers to a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.
Republicans counter that Democrats are not prevented from supporting candidates of their choice, and that courts have never established a limit on political considerations in drawing district lines.
The Congressional map, under current Pennsylvania law, is drawn after each federal census signed into law by the governor. Districts must be of equal population, and geographically contiguous. The process has resulted in a few curiosities, some politicians on both sides agree. In Montgomery County, whose residents are spread over five different districts, the county Board of Commissioners’ staff must coordinate on legislation of interest with five separate offices on Capitol Hill.
Some advocates of change allege Pennsylvania’s congressional maps are among the most extreme examples of gerrymandering in the country.
Wednesday’s court “arguments were a 150-minute encapsulation of a debate over a map that has reliably produced a 13 Republican, five Democrat Pennsylvania delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2012,” reporter Charles Thompson wrote for PennLive.
Pennsylvania’s not alone. District lines allegedly drawn to favor one party are now being challenged in several states. One example: a federal court recently ordered North Carolina to redraw district lines after determining that gerrymandering in that state violated the U.S. Constitution.
“These maps are drawn with the intent to ensure that one party who is in power stays in power,” according to Suzanne Almeida, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. She claims Pennsylvania GOP candidates have had a consistent, unfair advantage since 2011 when Republicans redrew districts. “And when that happens, that takes away the will of the voters,” Almeida charged.
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