New Map Deep Dive: Pennsylvania

Welcome back to our series of Deep Dives on new legislative maps in key battleground states!

First, we explored the behind-the-scenes machinations shaping the redistricting process in Arizona. Then, we told the inspirational story of the grassroots victory that unrigged the gerrymander in Michigan.

Today, we’re unlocking the Keystone State – let’s talk about the new maps in Pennsylvania:

Quick History Lesson

In Pennsylvania, congressional and legislative redistricting are separate processes. 

For congressional districts, the state legislature passes a map, and the governor signs it. In 2011, Republicans controlled this entire process and passed an extreme partisan gerrymander, featuring ridiculous shapes like the notorious “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” district. (Fortunately, the PA Supreme Court struck down that map in 2017.)

For legislative districts, politicians are still in charge of the process – but with a twist. Maps are drawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), which consists of House and Senate leaders from each party who elect a fifth member, an independent chair. If they can’t pick a chair, the PA Supreme Court does it.

The state constitution requires contiguity, compactness, and respect for county and city boundaries. (In other words, no Goofy-shaped districts.) In 2011, those requirements helped a 28-year-old piano teacher named Amanda Holt challenge the legislative maps – and win! From there, the PA Supreme Court and the legislature went back and forth, even reverting to the 2001 maps for a time, until settling on a map in 2014. Basically, almost every election of the past decade has used a different map.

Drawing the Lines

In 2021, House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree on a chair, so the PA Supreme Court selected Mark Nordenberg, former Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.

Nordenberg conducted one of the most open, transparent, and (small-d) democratic redistricting processes in state history. The LRC held seven public hearings, both in-person and virtual, and reviewed more than 6,000 public comments. 

Even though the preliminary map tilted Republican, right-wing legislators accused Nordenberg of bias throughout the process and introduced a bill to overhaul the LRC. In the end, the maps passed on February 4 with bipartisan support.

2022 Outlook

The last decade’s maps had 94 State House seats won by Joe Biden and 109 won by Trump, while the new House map has 103 Biden and 100 Trump seats. 

In the Senate, there’s less change, with 24 Biden and 26 Trump districts. And because of their four-year terms, only half of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.

The bottom line: These maps give us an even more level playing field as we continue our work to flip both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature blue.

The good news is that 14 Republicans in the House are retiring, and the new map groups five different sets of GOP incumbents together. (All retirements and incumbent matchups are listed here.)

The bad news is that several Democrats are retiring, particularly long-serving members in ancestrally blue areas that have since shifted red. In the past, they won enough Trump voters on the strength of their reputation and record to hang on – but without them on the ballot, these translate to probable GOP pickups.

In the House, the most competitive districts appear to be 3, 30, 33, 38, 45, 121, 137, 142, 144, and 160 – although thanks to the competitiveness of the new map, as many as 30 districts could be in play. That means lots of targets to choose from, and lots of chances for grassroots donors and volunteers to make a difference.

In the Senate, the most competitive districts appear to be 6, 14, 18, 22, 24, 38, and 40, although this list could also shift as time goes on (and we get a whole new set of targets in 2024).

Pennsylvania is an absolute top priority for EveryDistrict. Not only is the legislature in play, but the state’s races for Governor, U.S. Senate, and Congress will have far-reaching national implications.