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Court releases voting map in Pa.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

February 19. 2018 9:04PM

PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday released a new congressional district map, upending familiar boundaries, renumbering districts across the state and giving a potential boost to Democrats in the 2018 House elections.

Its plan splits only 13 counties. Of those, four counties are split into three districts and nine are split into two districts. By contrast the most recent map, enacted in 2011, split 28 counties.

“The Remedial Plan is superior or comparable to all plans submitted by the parties, the intervenors, and amici, by whichever Census-provided definition one employs,” the court wrote in its order. It also wrote that the plan is “superior or comparable” to the various map proposals on the average compactness of districts and that each district in the map has an equal population, plus or minus one person.

It also upends the previous map, with significant changes to where districts are located and renumbering several of them.

Philadelphia remains divided into three congressional districts, with most of it split between the Second and Third Districts.

A portion of South Philadelphia is drawn into the Fifth district based in Delaware County — a substitute of sorts for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s First Congressional District.

That number instead moves north to Bucks County.

Many of the changes seem generally favorable for Democrats. President Donald Trump would have won 10 congressional districts under the new plan, two fewer than he actually won in 2016 under the most recent map.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would have won the remaining eight districts under the new map, though one district is so close as to be essentially a toss-up.

Under the new plan, Trump would have won seven districts and Clinton each would have won five districts with at least 55 percent of the two-party vote. In the competitive range, Trump and Clinton would have each won three districts with margins between 50 and 55 percent of the two-party vote.

In one win for local Democrats, the fourth district is centered on Montgomery County. Critics of the map adopted in 2011 often pointed to Montgomery County, which was split into five districts in that plan and had no member of congress living in the county.

Bucks and Chester Counties also receive districts based largely on their boundaries.

“It’s a big win for Montgomery County and Delco,” said Philadelphia-based political consultant Larry Ceisler. “Montgomery County, in the past few redistrictings, has had three or four members of Congress.” He adds that it “means a lot” for a county to have a “go-to member of Congress.”

The new map comes after weeks of political and legal fighting following the state high court’s ruling that the map adopted in 2011 was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement that he applauds the court’s work “and I respect their effort to remedy Pennsylvania’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.”

“Now, my focus will be on making sure the Department of State can support our counties and all candidates in the election process, particularly during the petition period,” he said.

But don’t expect the map to end the battle.

Even before Monday’s order, Republican lawmakers were vowing to challenge in federal court whatever map the court selected. The decision to take the mapmaking into the court’s own hands, they argued, usurps the line-drawing power that the U.S. Constitution gives to state legislatures.

And the court did not give them enough time to enact a new map.

“This Court recognized that the primary responsibility for drawing congressional districts rested squarely with the legislature, but we also acknowledged that, in the eventuality of the General Assembly not submitting a plan to the Governor, or the Governor not approving the General Assembly’s plan within the time specified, it would fall to this Court expeditiously to adopt a plan based upon the evidentiary record developed in the Commonwealth Court,” the per curiam order reads, adding that drawing a map is “a role which our Court has full constitutional authority and responsibility to assume.”

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