This was a bold, clever and well-executed experiment. We loved how Anne took on the challenge of debunking one of the arguments sometimes offered in favor of the redistricting status quo. Her map shows that a map can be fair to incumbents without compromising other goals such as compactness.
We note that she had to do extra research to find incumbents’ addresses – and we know from experience that this is harder than it sounds. The essay is clear and eloquent in explaining why she decided to take on the incumbency issue and the map is meticulously produced to buttress the point she set out to make. This entry ends with a powerful statement about what can be achieved when citizens set out to draw an election map in good faith. Bravo.
This submission is made on behalf of Concerned Citizens for Democracy, a nonpartisan, all-volunteer group of lawyers, technical analysts, and activists fighting to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. The submission consists of two related maps.
This map, the second in this submission, attempts to respect the same neutral, hand-designed method that we've used in all our DTL entires while addressing the most common concern raised by politicians and judges about neutral redistricting methodologies. This concern, avoiding contests between incumbents, was clearly in play in the design of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's 2018 remedial map.
Unsurprisingly, incumbent Representatives and legislators are generally deeply worried about being drawn into the same district as another incumbent. While congressional representatives, unlike state legislators, are technically not required to live in their districts, failing to do so courts accusations of being a "carpetbagger" and risks disconnection from one's natural base of supporters. Thus, incumbents drawn into the same district often feel compelled to run against each other instead of moving to neighboring districts, even knowing that "There Can Be Only One". This can be particularly wrenching when the two incumbents are members of the same party, especially if the new district has a net partisan lean towards the other party. In this latter case, the prize for winning a bitter internecine primary may simply be the opportunity to lose in the general election. (This is what happened in Pennsylvania's then-12th Congressional district in 2012.)
As a result, many politicians are highly averse to any redistricting reform which may subject incumbents to increased risk of such "double-bunking." Many courts (including the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania) have explicitly or implicitly treated incumbent contest avoidance as a legitimate interest in redistricting. CCFD does not recommend special attention to incumbents as an appropriate redistricting practice, because it effectively treats incumbent politicians as "more equal" than other citizens running for office, in seeming violation of the "free and equal elections" guarantee in our state Constitution. However, since so many powerful players seem to consider it such a high priority, we wished to examine the possible effects of attempting to avoid incumbent contests during the rapidly approaching 2021 redistricting.
Unless demographic trends change dramatically before 2020, the coming reapportionment will likely result in Pennsylvania going from 18 to 17 seats in Congress. And, unless one or more incumbents decide not to compete in 2022, this will necessarily result in at least one incumbent contest. We cannot, of course, know for sure at this stage who the incumbent representatives will be in 2022, but, especially given the power of incumbency in elections, it is worthwhile to use our current dongressional delegation (9 Democrats and 9 Republicans) to explore the possibilities. For the purpose of this exploration, the second map in this submission adopts the following rules:
1) No district may be without an incumbent or have more than two incumbents. (Thus, exactly two incumbents are paired together when going from 18 to 17 districts.)
2) For the sake of partisan fairness, incumbents must be paired one Republican to one Democrat, rather than pairing two from the same party.
The addresses used to map all of the 18 current incumbents were extracted from Pennsylvania's voter registration database. Mapping these addresses demonstrated that it was extremely difficult to pair up two incumbents of any parties in the western, central, or southeastern parts of the state while respecting the need to keep districts compact and minimize splits, as those parts of the state each have exactly as many representatives as their populations justify in a 17-district map.
However, the same cannot be said for the Northeast, which has enough population for one compactly-drawn district in a 17-district map, but is currently home to two Representatives - Republican Dan Meuser (who, in 2018, moved from his former home in northeast PA's newly created 8th District just barely across the line into the new 9th District, in order to run for Congress there), and Democrat Matt Cartwright (who currently represents the 8th District and lives well inside its boundaries). Thus, this submission places these two representatives together into its (competitive) 8th District. All other incumbents are unpaired.
Other than avoiding incumbent pairings, this second map submission was created via the same procedure as the first - the incumbents' locations were simply used to seed each of the compact district-sized groupings of counties in the initial rough draft and adjustments that would have forced excess pairings were rejected during refinement. Many parts of this second submission bear similarities to the current Congressional map (e.g., the counties chosen for the 1st, 5th, 11th, 12th, and 13th Districts, and the 5th/7th District and 16th/17th District boundaries). This is because the (often inconvenient!) locations of the incumbents and the desire to reduce county splits forced similar choices in both maps.
One unavoidable difference between this map and the current congressional map was the three-way split of Allegheny County, despite the fact that Allegheny's population is less than that of two districts. This was required in order to keep all of the three Representatives who live in that county in different districts. (One of them, Guy Reschenthaler, currently lives in Mike Doyle's 18th District, instead of his own 14th District.)
In addition to the double-split of Allegheny County, avoidance of incumbent pairings also resulted in 14 rather than 13 total split counties, and six rather than five split municipalities. There are 10 competitive districts in this map, but a former narrowly majority-minority district (the 17th) was tipped over the threshold to become barely majority-white. The average compactness went down only slightly from our othe rmap (to 36.4%), but the least compact district is actually slightly better than before (27.1%).
These small differences between the two maps should not be taken very much to heart, because it is certainly possible that slightly better results could be obtained for either map with additional refinement. Rather, the most important outcome of this experiment in incumbent contest avoidance is that, despite the rather awkward locations of the current incumbents, the overall map statistics clearly do NOT need to be greatly altered to keep incumbents apart.
It is eminently feasible to avoid incumbent contests while designing a contiguous, compact, low-splits, equal population map with minority representation and many competitive districts, in accordance with PA Constitutional requirements, federal law, and basic notions of democratic accountability. Moreover, it is not necessary to pair two incumbents of the same party, or to dramatically disfavor either paired incumbent, to do so.
It is important that Pennsylvanians remember going into 2021 that not only are reasonable, fair legislative and congressional maps possible in our state, they are relatively easy to produce if drafters are working in good faith. Whoever draws our next set of congressional and legislative maps must be held accountable to that standard.