Pennsylvania has a new congressional map, thanks to a controversial ruling by the state Supreme Court in January 2018.

The new map ordered up by the court is a lot better than the old one, whose bizarrely shaped districts (see: “Donald Duck kicking Goofy”) became nationally notorious as an emblem of out-of-control partisan gerrymandering.    

So, great. Problem solved, right?

Not so fast.  Not by a long sight.

A short lifespan

The court’s ruling only fixed one bad map.

It did not fix the broken processes that have given Pennsylvania voters bad map after bad map – for both federal and state legislative districts.  

Only a strong citizen push for big changes in how election maps are drawn can provide a lasting solution.

Understand that this new congressional map – though an improvement - has a very short shelf life.

After being used in the 2018 midterm elections, it will be around for only one more congressional election, in 2020.

Then it will be back to the drawing board, literally, for Pennsylvania.

A map of Pennsylvania is being erased by a giant pencil in this cartoon.
Image Credit: Illustration by Rob Tornoe


Count on a change

Why?  Because election maps get redrawn after every federal census. The next count comes in 2020.

What’s more, the 2020 Census is likely to result in Pennsylvania’s losing one or more of its 18 congressional seats.   The state’s population simply isn’t growing as fast as those of many Sun Belt states, which means one or more of those warmer places will add an additional seat at Pennsylvania’s expense.

So, no matter how much some Pennsylvanians might approve of the new, court-ordered map, they shouldn’t get too attached.

We will have to do this all over again in 2021.  The state General Assembly and Gov. Wolf will have to agree on a new congressional map.  

Wait, what?

Yes, the same lawmakers and governor who rarely can agree on anything, including the core task of their jobs: setting a state budget.

And the same General Assembly that in 2011 approved the wacky, now-overturned map – only one day after the exact district lines were finally, belatedly inserted into a redistricting bill.

Nothing about that previous paragraph fosters hope that, left to their own devices and the old process, the potentates of Harrisburg will produce a satisfactory congressional map.

Realize, also, that the court ruling did not apply to the maps for state legislative seats – House and Senate.  These are also badly gerrymandered.

When these state maps get redrawn in 2021, that will be done according to a process mandated by the state constitution.  State maps are approved by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, consisting of five people. Each one of the four political caucuses of the General Assembly (House Democrats and Republicans; Senate Democrats and Republicans) gets to appoint a member.

Now, those four groups can barely agree on what day of the week it is, let alone something with the political import of these maps, which can shape or end political careers.

One appointee, much clout

So, expect a partisan standoff among their four appointees.  That means the fifth member, appointed by the state Supreme Court, will end up being the tiebreaker.  Yes, the same Supreme Court that some GOP lawmakers have been clamoring to impeach, so irked were they by the ruling on the congressional map.

Sounds like a joyous time, doesn’t it?

In the past, this commission has tended to do its work in secret, with minimal public input. This suggests that, absent major reforms, 2021 will be a secretive, nasty clash of partisan interests, with a deeply unsatisfactory result.

To sum up, the Supreme Court’s ruling and its replacement congressional map were necessary to the quest for reform, but far from sufficient.

Much work remains to give Pennsylvania voters the processes and the maps they deserve.