By Liam Hoare and Samantha Delman
So how can you help? How can we ensure that the now-fair Pennsylvania maps stay fair? Easy: you #VoteThatJawn. Everything that has happened in Pennsylvania politics can be traced back to voters. Voters elected Republican State Representatives, Republican State Senators, and Republican Governors entrusted these people with not only the power to govern but the power to draw the political lines that would dominate the next decade. Thus, from this election we got two decades of maps that favored republicans. But then, voters gave their confidence to the Democratic party and elected Democratic Supreme court justices who were able to overturn the Republican gerrymanders and implement fair maps for the 2018 midterms.
Even during the most recent redistricting cycle where the state maps were drawn by the courts we see how important the vote is.
At the start of the cycle we were expecting the state legislature to create a map that would then be signed into law by the governor. But this cycle we saw a divided government, the State Legislature was controlled by Republicans and the Governorship was controlled by Democrat Tom Wolf. So when the Legislature put forward a map that made a democratic district into a competitive district, made the states 3 swing seats held by democratic reps more republican, 2 of which to the point that they would be unlikely to be competitive outside of the most democratic years, and made one of the republican- held swing seats a solidly republican district, Tom Wolf decided to veto the map instead of signing it into law.
This was the first time a map put forward by the state legislature was vetoed by the governor this century as in all prior redistricting cycles this century Republicans had unified control of the Pennsylvania state government. This was the first step that threw the current cycle into chaos. Tom Wolf would then go on to propose a map that split Pittsburg, eliminated a Republican district while making one of the states competitive districts more democratic, a non-starter for the Republican state Legislature. This left the redistricting process at an impasse, meaning it was the courts time to shine.
Originally redistricting was deemed to be in the Commonwealth Court’s jurisdiction, but this was not appealing for Democrats. The Commonwealth Court consists of 5 Republicans, 3 Republicans and a vacancy currently, in turn leaving the decision of what the new PA map would look like to the same justice who blocked the certification of the PA election results and gave Trump his only court victory in the 2020 election, Patricia McCullough. The Commonwealth Court was fully ready to take over the process, but the Democrats had one ace up their sleeves: the Supreme Court. The PA Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority, a majority Democrats had hoped would use their power to take over the redistricting process from the Commonwealth Court.
After one of the motions to the PA Supreme Court failed, Democrats were disheartened at their prospects and it seemed all but certain that the Republican Commonwealth Court would take over the process, but the motto of if you don’t succeed try again seemed to be the Democrats mantra as they refiled a motion for the PA Supreme Court to take over citing that the undoubted appeals would take too long, and the logic worked. The PA Supreme Court accepted the motion and decided they would take over the process, allowing for the Commonwealth Court to make a recommendation to the court of what the map should be.
This in turn led to Patricia McCullough recommending the State Legislatures map, which was then disregarded by the PA Supreme Court who ended up picking the Carol Ann Carter proposal. Carter was a concerned citizen who had hoped to see a fair redistricting process in her great state. The map she proposed was more in accordance with the democrats desire for the process, but in the end represented a least-change solution keeping around ⅘ of the Pennsylvania population in the same district they were in before the redistricting process in spite of Pennsylvania losing a congressional district during reapportionment.
This finally marked the end of the redistricting cycle in Pennsylvania pending any appeals or further litigation. Pennsylvania will now use the Carter proposal to define who people vote for for the next 10 years, but what does this have to do with YOUR vote? Well, everything. Every single actor in this story is an elected official, your vote could shape the redistricting cycle. You were unhappy that the PA supreme court took over the redistricting process from the commonwealth court? Vote for the republican candidate in the next PA supreme court elections, the current Chief Justice Max Baer is about to hit retirement age and be replaced. You're upset that the State Legislature gave a lopsided congressional proposal to favor the Republican Party? Vote for the Democratic State Representative/State Senator in the upcoming 2022 elections. You influence this process, without the voters none of the people in the PA redistricting saga would have any power. These actors may determine how our maps get drawn and how we get divided up, but we the people decide who acts in our play.
Liam Hoare is a gay Miami native currently studying Political Science at UPenn with an interest in race and ethnic politics.
Samantha Delman is a Georgia native with a passion for freelance journalism, photography, and social media content creation as a tool for political communications and voting rights activism.