HARRISBURG — A commission set up by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf recommended Thursday that Pennsylvania redraw congressional and legislative districts through an 11-person appointed group that would provide a set of options that state lawmakers would choose from.
The report by the Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform Commission said people want limits on the role of politicians in drawing maps and take a dim view of the current system’s emphasis on gaining partisan advantage.
Republican legislative leaders opted not to send appointees to the commission and have previously accused Wolf of grandstanding about redistricting.
House Republican spokesman Mike Straub responded coolly to the commission’s report.
“We will take into consideration proposals to modernize the current process, but an 11-member panel will never be as representative of the commonwealth as 253 legislators and the governor is, nor will an 11-member panel allow for as much transparency and opportunity for input as the amendment process currently provides,” Straub said.
Wolf’s spokesman said the governor still supports having redistricting done by a citizens’ commission.
After the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court redrew congressional maps last year, the Republicans’ 13-to-5 advantage in the state’s delegation to Washington became a 9-to-9 tie as a result of the November election.
The commission said many state residents believe the political system is “built to serve the interests of those who work in it, not theirs.”
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“Pennsylvanians who offered input to the commission say they yearn for a fairer redistricting process — one that they can understand and trust; a process that makes decisions by consensus and by a set of simple and transparent rules, rather than by narrow partisan advantage,” the report said.
The public wants compact, contiguous districts that minimize breaking up counties, cities, townships, boroughs and wards, the panel concluded.
The commission recommended maps be drawn by the group of qualified people, chosen by the governor and legislative leaders. It would submit three maps to be chosen from by either the General Assembly as a whole or a body that legislators would designate.
The maps would be designed to minimize the number of jurisdictions that are split and to “ensure that diverse populations across the commonwealth have a reasonable ability to have their political voices heard,” the commission said.
It also would prevent the map drawers from considering the home address of any individual, the political affiliation of registered voters or previous election results — unless required by federal law.
Pennsylvania will redraw congressional and state legislative maps as a result of the 2020 census. Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania is closely divided politically, with Democrats holding the governorship and other statewide offices, and the Supreme Court, while Republicans have firm majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
The congressional maps go through as legislation, requiring approval in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature. But the state legislative maps are drawn by a five-member group, with appointees from the minority and majority leaders of the House and Senate. If they can’t agree on a fifth member — and they have not been able to — the Supreme Court appoints it.
Last June, during the previous legislative session, Senate Republicans pushed through a bill on nearly party lines to amend the state constitution to have lines drawn by a commission with members picked by top lawmakers and the governor, requiring final approval by supermajorities of lawmakers. It also would have altered the election of appellate judges to be done by district, rather than statewide.
“It took nine months to come up with what we passed a year ago — an independent commission,” said Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. “At first glance, the only difference seems to be tweaking the strict requirements established by the Senate to prevent undue political influence from tainting the process.”
That bill and other redistricting proposals died when the two-year session concluded at year’s end. At this point it’s unlikely any constitutional amendment could be enacted in time to affect the redrawing that will occur after 2020.