Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to Use Computer-Drawn Maps and Other Tools to Help Spot Gerrymandering | New


PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania’s new congressional map will help shape political power for a decade – and Governor Tom Wolf is making some rules as it is mapped out.

Wolf is playing a key role in the Decennial Redistribution: The Republican-controlled state legislature will draw a map, but Wolf, a Democrat, can veto this legislation. This gives Democrats some leverage to draw the state’s 17 districts to the United States (Pennsylvania loses one seat). And the way those boundaries are drawn can help determine who is sent to Washington, which communities have the most influence in policymaking, and even which party controls Congress.

Before the cards are offered – likely in the next few weeks – Wolf unveiled a list of principles for evaluating them.

“The decision to accept or veto the next card will be one of my most important moments as governor,” Wolf said in a statement last week, “and these principles will be crucial in guiding my exam”.

They were developed by the Governor’s Redistribution Advisory Council, made up of six members. The principles are largely standard redistribution tariffs, written in a broad sense.

Here’s what you need to know:

—Several principles are simple

The principles of compactness, contiguity and equality of the population are widely accepted.

Districts are legally supposed to have roughly the same population – “one person, one vote” – and be contiguous, which means they cannot be split between disconnected areas. And they’re often expected to be relatively compact – a way to measure whether the districts cover a drop-like area or have long tentacles and odd shapes. Compactness has traditionally been an easy-to-understand way to assess a map, although more sophisticated tools have appeared.

“Compactness is a tool against gerrymandering, but it is sometimes a crude tool. … Sometimes, of course, communities are not very compact, ”said Michael Li, a redistribution expert at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Wolf’s council also advised him to determine whether the cards meet the voting rights law requirements for “districts of opportunity” where communities of color have the power to elect any candidates they choose. (These neighborhoods do not necessarily have to be “majority-minority”.)

—Wolf to use computer-drawn maps to help assess Legislative Assembly proposal

Computer-drawn maps have become a powerful tool for understanding political geography. Computers can draw a large number of maps at random and measure their various characteristics.

Suppose you draw thousands of maps dividing Pennsylvania based on neutral criteria such as compactness, then count the number of districts that would have been won by Donald Trump or Joe Biden last year. Many cards would have a roughly even number of Biden and Trump districts (Biden won the state by 81,000 votes).

This gives you an idea of ​​what the natural distribution should be – helping to contextualize the map sent by the legislature.

“We suggested to the governor that using the previous elections – which vary, some were red, some were blue – that he examine the proportionality of the map in this context,” said Lee Ann Banaszak, professor of political science at Penn State on the Wolf Redistribution. advice.

A spokesperson for Wolf said that “comparing the cards is an important tool” which will be “one of many the governor will use.”

—School Districts Must Stay United, Principles Say

A sign of a potential gerrymander is when districts cross political subdivisions such as counties and towns seemingly arbitrarily – suggesting that districts may have been drawn not to fairly represent the residents of those areas, but to divide them. surgically for the benefit of a party.

Therefore, minimizing these divisions is a well established way of keeping communities together. And Wolf’s council explicitly includes school districts, not just counties and municipalities. Banaszak said it came from public comment.

“We tend to think of political jurisdictions as county boundaries in particular,” she said. “But what we heard in the… public sessions is that there are other political jurisdictions that are important. “

—Keep “communities of interest” together

Keeping “communities of interest” intact is a principle that non-partisan experts cite as key to drawing fair political maps: Whatever the definition of a community, it must remain united so that it can be properly represented.

But it is difficult to define a community.

Consider how difficult it can be to even define where one neighborhood in Philadelphia ends and another begins. And there are many ways to distinguish regions. You can use economic factors, such as the industries in which residents work. Or you can use social and cultural factors, even something seemingly superficial but powerfully regional like sports teams.

—The way you prioritize makes a big difference

Two closely related principles are more complicated than they appear. The first says the maps should produce results “proportional to statewide voter preference,” and the second says the maps should have “districts where partisan fluctuations have translated into changes in the Congress delegation ”.

These ideas suggest that a card should be sensitive to voter politics: In a roughly 50-50 state like Pennsylvania, a big wave of elections should see the winning party win more seats – and not just win more seats. gain the seats it already controls by greater margins.

But these principles can become messy if overweighted, especially amid the polarization that has produced deep blue cities, deep red rural areas, and increasingly divided suburbs.

“Sometimes the only way to get competition is to rape communities, because communities are sometimes politically homogeneous,” Li said.

Philadelphia, for example, is so strongly democratic that to attract competitive neighborhoods there would have to be divided into many neighborhoods that spread out in sprawling exurbs. Competitiveness and proportionality often occur more naturally by focusing on other principles of fair riding, Li said, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania.

“You don’t really have to put your thumb on the scales to compete,” he said. Nor for proportionality: “Proportionality is a good goal, but you don’t have to gerrymander to get there. “

Banaszak said the goal is not to focus on competitiveness, but to ensure that in politically divided areas, “you should leave them competitive, not try to turn them into an easy victory for the world. ‘either party “.

—Wolf will consider the transparency of the process

The council says the Congress card should be done with input from the public. Republican lawmakers have held hearings and are accepting cards from the public, but it’s not clear if or how that might influence the final product.

“We received a lot of feedback on the draft principles we had, but people kept saying they were worried about the process,” Banaszak said.

Republicans say it will be the most open and transparent redistribution in state history – and it will likely be true, but only because of the height of the bar.

When the legislature puts forward a map, the council said, lawmakers should explain their decisions, including why the counties were divided and which specific interest communities were prioritized.

Wolf, the council said, “should oppose any map that is made public and passed quickly with limited legislative debate or the possibility of public scrutiny.”

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© 2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit to inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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