Commissions, Committees and Confusion, oh my!

Reapportionment and redistricting happen every ten years and it can be confusing who does what and how it gets done. As the process starts again in 2021 we share some Q&A’s to help all of us understand the process better. This is by no means comprehensive but it is a start.

What is redistricting and reapportionment?

Our federal House of Representatives has a set number of members: 435. Every ten years, the United States conducts a census to determine how many people are living in the United States and where they live. The population of the country is then divided by the 435 seats. Any state that lost population may lose a House of Representative seat. This year’s census showed that Pennsylvania lost population, therefore we lost a House of Representative seat. We have been “reapportioned” one less seat from the 435 seats available in the House.

Redistricting refers to the drawing of lines. It is a process by which a group of people are separated into voting districts. In PA, our legislators often call redistricting reapportionment, even though they are different things. Read more about how redistricting works.

In the redistricting process, what is the difference between a committee and a commission?

In the redistricting process, which committee and commission are responsible for voting maps becoming law?

The State Government Committees in both the PA House and Senate and the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

In redistricting, what do the State Government Committees do?

A bill outlining the congressional map is introduced in the State Government Committees of the House and Senate and follows the path of any other bill for passage in the General Assembly. The governor then receives the bill for signature or veto.

In redistricting, what does the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) do?

The LRC is responsible for creating both PA House and Senate districts (the General Assembly). This commission hires a mapping expert to help them draw maps. The maps they create become law - no governor or legislature approval required.

What maps are being created?

Three maps are being created. Each map slices the state into voting districts. Each map has a different purpose.

*Note: US Senators represent the entire state they are elected from. A district map is not required.

Are mapping experts hired by either committee or commission?

While PA legislators oversee and direct the map drawing process, in all likelihood they will hire a mapping expert or redistricting consultant firm to help. Such firms have expertise in geographic information systems (GIS), demographics and census data.

Has the LRC hired a mapping expert ?

Yes, Dr. Jonathan Cervas from Carnegie Mellon will support the LRC and also review maps submitted by citizens.

Has either of the State Government Committees hired a mapping expert?

To our knowledge, no. In reality, the public rarely knows who draws PA congressional maps. National partisan entities such as the National Republican Redistricting Trust or the National Democratic Redistricting Committee may have a strong say in the issue and may already have maps ready for review.

Will the State Government Committees share who draws the maps they present to the public?

Ten years ago, they did not. With pressure from voters we hope that will not be repeated in 2021.

Do these committees and commissions work together?

No. They are holding separate administrative meetings and public hearings. The LRC works independently from legislative committees in the General Assembly. The General Assembly committees follow the regular bill-to-law process for the congressional map. The House GOP Caucus Redistricting website makes clear that there is no coordination between parties OR between chambers, suggesting the map itself might be drawn elsewhere

How does a bill become a law?

A bill is drafted, goes to committee and then voted on in committee, then goes to the floor of the committee’s chamber (house or senate) and then passes over to the other chamber’s committee to duplicate the process. Once approved on the floor of both chambers the congressional map bill will go to the governor for signature. This guide has more detailed information.

How do I find information being shared with the public?

What was the congressional redistricting process like ten years ago?

Ten years ago the congressional map was introduced and passed within a week. Read our summary of the 2011 process.

Why should I care who is on the commission or committee?

Whoever has the final say in how our voting district lines are drawn can eliminate and dilute the power of each voter. Democracy depends on one person, one vote. Gerrymandering is a real problem in Pennsylvania.

What has Fair Districts PA done to fix the problems?

Fair Districts PA has met with legislators, held public meetings and more, but our work is not done.

What can I do now to ensure there are fair maps?

Participate in Speak up for fair maps activities.

Have more questions?

Here's how you can Take Action

Start with "The Problem"