Group files suit, claims GOP stacked deck in dis­tricts.

The Southern Berks News - - FRONT PAGE - By Alex Rose arose@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @arosedelco on Twit­ter

The League of Women Vot­ers of Penn­syl­va­nia filed a law­suit June 15 chal­leng­ing a 2011 con­gres­sional redis­trict­ing that the or­ga­ni­za­tion claims cre­ated “safe” dis­tricts for Repub­li­can can­di­dates while dis­en­fran­chis­ing Democrats.

“By any mea­sure, Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­gres­sional map is among the top three stark­est par­ti­san ger­ry­man­ders in the coun­try,” said Mimi McKen­zie, le­gal di­rec­tor of the Pub­lic In­ter­est Law Cen­ter rep­re­sent­ing the League. “This map was drawn to en­sure that our gen­eral elec­tions will be de­cided be­fore vot­ers even go to the polls on Elec­tion Day.”

The suit, filed in the Com­mon­wealth Court of Penn­syl­va­nia, al­leges two claims un­der the state Con­sti­tu­tion for vi­o­la­tions of the Free Ex­pres­sion and As­so­ci­a­tion Clause and Free and Equal Clause, the state-level equiv­a­lents of the First and 14th Amend­ments to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. The pe­ti­tion names the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral Assem­bly; Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. Michael Stack, both Democrats; House Speaker Michael Turzai, R-28, of Mar­shall Town­ship; Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Joseph Scar­nati, R-25, of Brock­way; Secretary of the Com­mon­wealth Pe­dro Cortés; and Bu­reau of Com­mis­sions, Elec­tions and Leg­is­la­tion Com­mis­sioner Jonathan Marks as re­spon­dents.

McKen­zie said those re­spon­dents are not nec­es­sar­ily the same re­spon­si­ble for draw­ing the bound­aries in 2011, but would be tasked with chart­ing the new elec­toral map if the law­suit is suc­cess­ful.

Wolf spokesman J.J. Ab­bott said the gover­nor has not had an op­por­tu­nity to re­view the suit yet, but be­lieves the redis­trict­ing process should be fair and trans­par­ent. Turzai and Scar­nati did not re­turn calls for com­ment.

Con­gres­sional dis­tricts are re­drawn ev­ery 10 years by mem­bers of the state Leg­is­la­ture and the gover­nor has veto power over the re­sult­ing plan. In 2011, said McKen­zie, both branches were con­trolled by Repub­li­cans.

McKen­zie added that the bill for redis­trict­ing when sub­mit­ted in Septem­ber 2011 was es­sen­tially a blank shell that was only filled in when it was voted on Dec. 14.

“There was no trans­parency what­so­ever,” said McKen­zie. “There was no time for pub­lic com­ment or out­rage or any of that.”

The pe­ti­tion­ers are vot­ers from all 18 dis­tricts – in­clud­ing Mary El­iz­a­beth Lawn, of Ch­ester – who al­lege the cur­rent con­gres­sional map was de­signed by “pack­ing” as many Demo­cratic vot­ers as pos­si­ble into Penn­syl­va­nia’s 1st, 2nd, 13th, 14th and 17th dis­tricts, while “crack­ing” the re­main­der by spread­ing them among the re­main­ing 13 dis­tricts.

The com­plaint in­di­cates sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis and com­puter mod­el­ing of the map demon­strates that it could not have been the re­sult of tra­di­tional redis­trict­ing cri­te­ria, such as con­ti­gu­ity and com­pact­ness, but could only have re­sulted only from “im­per­mis­si­ble par­ti­san in­tent.” Ex­am­ples iden­ti­fied in the com­plaint in­clude the Demo­cratic strong­hold of Read­ing, which was carved out of the 6th Dis­trict and placed into the ma­jor­ity Repub­li­can 16th. Scran­ton, Wilkes-Barre and Eas­ton were sim­i­larly lumped to­gether into the 17th Dis­trict so as not to dis­turb the 11th Dis­trict, while por­tions of Ch­ester were carved out of the 7th Dis­trict and placed in the re­li­ably Demo­cratic 1st Dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

The 7th Dis­trict has been ma­ligned as one of the 10 worst ger­ry­man­dered in the coun­try by the Wash­ing­ton Post, which de­scribed its odd shape as “Goofy kick­ing Don­ald Duck.” Oth­ers, such as the 12th Dis­trict “could be mis­taken for the boot of Italy,” while the 6th “re­sem­bles the State of Florida,” the com­plaint says.

“These shapes lay bare the lengths that Repub­li­cans went to deny pe­ti­tion­ers and mil­lions of other vot­ers their con­sti­tu­tional rights and to lock in an ar­ti­fi­cial po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage for Repub­li­cans,” ac­cord­ing to the suit. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Pat Mee­han, R-7, of Chadds Ford, de­clined com­ment. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-1, of Philadel­phia, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The com­plaint notes that Repub­li­cans won 49 per­cent of the statewide vote in 2012, but se­cured 72 per­cent of the statewide seats with 13 of 18 con­gres­sional dis­tricts. Democrats who took more than 50 per­cent of the statewide vote se­cured the re­main­ing five seats, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint. This trend con­tin­ued in 2014 and 2016, even though Repub­li­can can­di­dates won only 55 per­cent and 54 per­cent of the statewide vote in those elec­tions, the suit says. “Penn­syl­va­nia’s lead­ers were de­lib­er­ate and suc­cess­ful in dis­crim­i­nat­ing against vot­ers when they de­signed this map,” said Lawn, who re­sides in the 7th Dis­trict, in a re­lease. “Af­ter decades of liv­ing in one dis­trict, in 2011 my com­mu­nity was split up into mul­ti­ple dis­tricts and now mem­bers of my com­mu­nity are ba­si­cally cast­ing wasted votes.”

The law­suit asks the court to de­clare the 2011 map un­con­sti­tu­tional and or­der a new map to be cre­ated. McKen­zie said that could be ac­com­plished through the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial master or by hav­ing both par­ties sub­mit al­ter­na­tive maps that could then be put to the gen­eral assem­bly.

McKen­zie noted sim­i­lar law­suits have been filed against Repub­li­cans in North Carolina and Democrats in Mary­land. The U.S. Supreme Court is also poised to take on a ger­ry­man­der­ing case in Wis­con­sin that could im­pact how states na­tion­wide draw their bound­aries.

“I think this is an is­sue that all vot­ers should care about,” McKen­zie said. “Whether it’s ger­ry­man­dered in fa­vor of Repub­li­cans or ger­ry­man­dered in fa­vor of Democrats, it presents a threat to democ­racy, and so it’s not a one party is­sue.”

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