Preliminary Congressional Plan

On December 8, Representative Seth Grove, Chair of the House State Government Committee, announced a preliminary Congressional plan. The map was created by Amanda Holt, litigant in a successful appeal in the 2011-2012 redistricting cycle.

The map was selected from among the 19 map submissions successfully uploaded to the input page by the December 6 deadline. On December 9, Holt appeared before the committee to discuss her map, explaining her purpose, priorities and process. As she explained repeatedly, she did not consider incumbent addresses or partisan data. Her process is unique in this time of computerized mapping. She works from spreadsheets and uses a pencil, trying multiple combinations as she works her way across the map.

Her top priorities: minimizing split counties, municipalities, wards and precincts, and respecting Voting Rights Act requirements, while working toward a zero person population deviation (all districts must have equal population).

Committee members asked at length about why certain counties were divided. As Holt explained patiently, three counties must be divided due to populations above the congressional district ideal number. Others are divided as districts are drawn to maintain equal population. Zero deviation means more counties may be divided than otherwise, and also forces strange decisions that might not be the mapper’s first choice.

The pursuit of zero deviation was another topic of great concern to committee members, with several quizzing Holt on the outcome of such strict interpretation of federal law. As Representative Lou Schmitt from Blair County reminded the committee: people are born, die and move every day. Zero population deviation makes no sense and causes needless splits.

While Holt appeared to agree, she also politely reminded Rep. Schmitt and the entire committee: it’s their job, not hers, to clarify mapping requirements.

You can watch the full two hour hearing here:

In conclusion, Representative Seth Grove encouraged the public to view and offer comment on the map. It will be given a vote in committee on Monday, December 13, but not finalized or given a final vote until sometime in early January. In a potentially unprecedented move, the Senate State Government Committee will also be introducing and voting on a map, possibly a version of the Holt map, sometime next week. If that map is also available for comment and review, both maps would need to be reconciled before a final bill is passed.

This appears to be the first time that the public has been given time to review and comment on a PA Congressional plan before it was finalized and given a vote.

In all of this, two things have become clear:

It is essential that the State Government Committee clarify priorities they consider essential in the drawing of this map.

There are multiple redistricting requirements embedded in federal law as well as legal precedent. The proposed map seems to elevate just two: no precinct splits and zero population deviation (read FDPA testimony on that here). The proposed map rates low on compactness, does little to advance minority representation and locks in a significant advantage for the party that proposed it.

Committee members from both sides of the aisle seemed unhappy at the way zero population deviation was given priority. When asked repeatedly why she elevated that value, Holt seemed to say she had been told that was what was wanted. That may have emerged in committee, but was not made clear on the submission website. It is nowhere enshrined in PA law.

While the committees have taken large steps forward in public engagement, real transparency and accountability would require a clearly-defined process and priorities.

The map submission website was difficult to navigate and maps over a certain population deviation would not “validate.” Just 19 maps were submitted on the site. The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Council site had more than three times that number submitted. There was no public notice that maps submitted would be considered as starting points for the final mapping process.

There was also no explanation from Chairman Grove about why the Holt map was selected. One committee member suggested hers was the only one with zero population deviation. That was not the case. Four maps had zero deviation, including the map submitted by Draw the Lines, incorporating ideas and mapping patterns from the thousands of maps submitted in contests across the past three years.

Without clarification of priorities and process, the public is left guessing and decisions continue to be made behind closed doors. As Minority Chair Seth Conklin noted, he first saw Amanda Holt’s map on Wednesday, the same day Rep. Grove announced it.

Review and Comment

Please take time to view the map and offer comment, suggest your own amended versions or ask questions.

Review Preliminary Plan

Analyze and compare

Since the map site provided by the PA House GOP above does not allow for analysis and comparison, an FDPA volunteer has uploaded the Holt map as well as other submitted maps onto Dave’s Redistricting App.

Some notable maps are linked in this spreadsheet. Top scores in each category are in bold. Open the sheet, then select a map. The map will open in Dave’s Redistricting. At that point you can zoom in to see what municipalities are split. You can also check the statistics, analyze metrics and compare similar maps. Look for the tabs in the top right of the app window.

Compare by District

At Redistricting and You, Click on Congressional, then look for Proposed Districts and check Preliminary plan.