March 23rd, 2022
Five years ago, the Committee of Seventy launched Draw the Lines PA to bring unprecedented transparency and citizen engagement to this once-arcane and hugely important process. We were operating on the hunch that when citizens literally take mapping into their own hands, they would unleash fresh streams of energy, accountability, and political power. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
This the most transparent mapping process in the history of the Commonwealth — not, as some elected officials have asserted, because of what happened inside the Capitol. Instead, it was the work of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians outside the Capitol, led by our 7,211 citizen mappers who spent over 25,000 hours of their own time drawing maps, that did the trick. Pennsylvania citizens threw open the curtains and turned on the lights.
For the first time ever, the Draw the Lines Citizens’ Map, and other maps drawn by citizen groups, reached the final round of consideration by the Supreme Court — the “Sweet Thirteen” set of maps from which the Court made its final selection. Because of our work, each of the set of thirteen congressional maps was far, far better than what was produced in 2011, and the state legislative maps were major improvements as well.
The quality and creativity of Draw the Lines did not go unnoticed. Governor Tom Wolf endorsed the Citizens’ Map, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Max Baer praised its creation: “I thought the Committee of Seventy and the methodology used here was really commendable… congratulations to all those involved in a really transparent process.”
Regarding the State House and Senate maps, early in 2021 Draw the Lines led a statewide campaign to ask the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), the body drawing the state house and senate maps, to accept public applications for the 5th member and chair of the commission. With the two parties placing two members apiece on the LRC, the chair is a vital position. We promoted this opportunity to the public and encouraged them to apply. We were satisfied that the LRC did accept public nominations. Nearly five times more people applied in 2021 than in 2011 (60, up from 13). Though the selection of the fifth member was eventually made by the PA Supreme Court, their choice (former Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg) was greeted by the public and both parties as an independent, common-sense choice. Without the public spotlight promoted by DTL on this process, it is likely that the court would have chosen a more political actor, as done in the past.
Chairman Nordenberg proved to be a valuable voice of fairness and deliberation throughout the legislative redistricting process.
The final congressional map was unequivocally better than what was produced in 2011 on pretty much every metric that a map is measured by. This includes:
- Compactness… improved from 16% in 2011 to 31% in 2022 (Polsby-Popper method), or 34% to 41% (Reock method).
- Limiting county splits… improved from 28 counties split 38 times in 2011 to 14 counties split 17 times in 2022
- Limiting municipal splits… improved from 68 in 2011 to 23 in 2022.
- Partisan fairness… improved from a 19% Republican skew in 2011 to a 1% Republican skew in 2022.
- Competitive districts… improved from one in 2011 to five in 2022.
The legislative maps were somewhat-to-significantly better across the board than the 2011 versions as well. In both the House and Senate, there are fewer splits across political divisions. Districts are more compact. Overall population deviation between the largest and smallest district is slightly larger, but the average deviation is about the same.
There was a great deal of discussion before the vote about racial equity in the maps. There are now 7 districts in the House and 2 in the Senate where there is not an incumbent and in which non-white voters make up a majority of the district. In the maps drawn in 2012, there were 28 districts in which non-white voters made up at least 35% of the voting-age population. The new maps contain 44 such districts. On the Senate side, the maps drawn in 2012 had 5 districts; the new maps contain 10.
Lastly, the Philadelphia Inquirer summarized the overall partisan impact of these maps. Neither map appears to unduly advantage one party over another. “The new maps still slightly favor Republicans but are significantly closer to evenly split than the current maps,” they write.