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Republicans in Pennsylvania will crowdsource new congressional map drawings

(By Christen Smith | The Center Square) – Republican lawmakers said Monday they will crowdsource opinions about how best to redraw Pennsylvania’s congressional district map this fall.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, told reporters at a news conference in Bucks County that redistricting is “one of the most important processes the legislature will undertake” – hence why lawmakers will solicit public opinions before completing the map in December.

“The coming slate of hearings, the publicly accessible website and the ability for Pennsylvanians to submit their own maps and communities of interest clearly makes this effort the most transparent Congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania history,” Benninghoff said.

House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said a tentative schedule of 10 hearings will kick off July 22 in Harrisburg with a review of the congressional redistricting process.

Every 10 years, states use updated U.S. Census population data to reapportion their congressional districts. The latest results published in April means Pennsylvania’s 2.4% population growth between 2010 and 2020 wasn’t fast enough to save its 18th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state has lost a district in every reapportionment since 1930, federal data shows. It will also lose one vote in the Electoral College, reducing Pennsylvania’s impact on presidential elections.

With more granular data about population shifts within the state unavailable until at least mid-August, the state’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission can do little more than wait to begin the official redrawing process. A final map must win approval from the General Assembly and the governor.

But in the meantime, the hearings will help the public get up to speed about what comes next – and give them an opportunity to tell lawmakers where the boundaries of the new districts should fall.

“Government should be transparent and that starts with how district maps are drawn,” Grove said. “At a time when public trust in government is low, it is vital that the voices of the people are heard.”

Public comment will be accepted both during the hearings and online.

“In that vein, the Congressional Reapportionment process being undertaken by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will be the most transparent in Pennsylvania history,” Grove said.

Pennsylvania’s recent reapportionment history, however, isn’t far removed from legislators’ minds.

In 2011, critics argued that Republicans – who, at the time, controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the executive office – gerrymandered maps to cement their power that resulted in bizarre and nonsensical district borders.

The state Supreme Court tossed the maps in 2018 and forced the Legislature to start over. The redrawn districts flipped a 13-5 Republican majority to a 9-9 even split.

The new process, as outlined in legislation authored by Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Richboro, will aim to prevent mistakes of the past.

“What we are proposing here is significantly different,” Grove said. “I don’t remember any public input this early on, particularly at the scope of saying ‘here go draw your communities of interest’ and go draw a map.”

The commission will meet Tuesday afternoon in Harrisburg to discuss staffing, census data, primary election deadlines, and reapportionment criteria. Public hearings about the process will continue through mid-October, with the final map due in December, Grove said.

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