By Liam Hoare and Samantha Delman
Redistricting occurs after the census to ensure that each lawmaker’s number of constituents in their district is proportional to the population for fair and equal representation in government. However, the number of Senators from each state is always two. The precedent for redistricting was established in 1964, when the Supreme Court ruled that voting districts must have equal populations under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533. However, Fair Districts PA makes an important distinction here: “Because of this ruling, voting districts are now drawn to be equal in population. But that alone doesn’t make them fair—because how those new lines get decided still isn’t equal.”
The redrawing of the map of Congressional districts often functions to keep certain interest groups or demographically similar communities together to increase the influence of the votes in that particular district. This can function positively, so that the overall breakdown of diversity across districts is representative of the diversity across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or negatively, such that by splitting up interest groups, legislators are stripping communities of their agency, because their influence is stronger together. Examples of gerrymandering that can negatively impact the distribution of people and votes are called “cracking,” which is defined as “diluting the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts,” and “packing,” which occurs when legislators “concentrat[e] the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.”
For the 2023 Congressional district map, Pennsylvania lost a seat in the House of Representatives and the number of districts in Pennsylvania decreased from 18 to 17. However, because each district must have a similar number of constituents, states with changes in the number of districts during the redistricting process often undergo the most drastic changes and are particularly susceptible to gerrymandering. Once a Congressional district map has been drawn, this map must be passed by both the PA State Senate and the PA State House before ultimately being signed into law by the governor. However, due to the lack of specificity about the process in Pennsylvania’s pre-existing legislation, there is a huge risk for the party in power to participate in “cracking” or “packing” to maintain control. If the party in power holds the governorship and a majority in the legislature, there is a high risk of gerrymandering with a lack of checks and balances. According to Fair Districts PA, “Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts were among the worst in the country after the 2011 redistricting process. Those districts were changed after a 2017-2018 lawsuit. Our state senate and house districts continue to be among the most gerrymandered by any measure available.” When issues arise, courts often become involved, as lawsuits are the only way to effectively challenge and change maps.
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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.