Redistricting is Here: A Guide to Pennsylvania’s Process and Your Role

Katie Phillips Active + Engaged Residents, Advocacy, Featured Advocacy

Every ten years, states are required by the U.S. Constitution to draw new legislative and congressional district boundaries based on the latest Census data. This is known as redistricting, and Pennsylvania has two processes – one for state legislative districts, and one for congressional districts.

It is essential that districts fairly and equitably represent the people who live there to ensure the representatives elected to that district are chosen by the people. In the past, Pennsylvania’s maps have been marred by gerrymandering – the process of manipulating boundaries to favor one political party over another. Beyond just dividing up voters of different political parties, gerrymandering can include a lot of different strategies, including:

  • Diluting the voting power of racial groups, by spreading voters out over multiple districts or putting them all in a single district.
  • Minimizing political representation among people who are incarcerated by counting them as residents in the area where they are incarcerated, rather than where they are from.
  • Redrawing lines to move an incumbent out of the district they were originally elected to.

This year, redistricting gives us the opportunity to adapt our districts to reflect changes in population and demographics, uplift the voices and votes of all Pennsylvanians, and prevent gerrymandering.

With the 2020 Census behind us, Pennsylvania’s redistricting process is in full swing. Organizations like Fair Districts PA and Draw the Lines PA are working tirelessly to ensure that the voice of the public is heard. Learn more about how state legislative redistricting works, how congressional redistricting works, and how you can make your voice heard in both processes.

1. State Legislative Redistricting

In Pennsylvania, PA House and Senate legislative district lines are drawn by a bipartisan commission – the Legistlative Reapportionment Commission (LRC). The LRC is made up of five members – “the four caucus floor leaders, or deputies appointed by each of them, and a chairman to be selected by those members or, if they cannot reach agreement, by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the LRC’s maps have compact and contiguous districts, nearly equal populations across districts, and limited divisions of any “county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward.”

The maps created by the LRC are automatically adopted by the state – they are not subject to a vote in the legislature and cannot by vetoed by the governor. Because of this, PUMP believes that it is especially important for the public to hold the LRC accountable for drawing fair, equitable maps.

The 2021 LRC members are:

  • Chair Mark A. Nordenberg
  • Senate Majority Leader Kim L. Ward (R)
  • Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D)
  • House Majority Leader Kerry A. Benninghoff (R)
  • House Democratic Leader Joanna E. McClinton (D)
Get Involved in State Legislative Redistricting:

There are a few ways to participate in the legislative redistricting process.

2. Congressional Redistricting

In Pennsylvania, Congressional Redistricting is done through the state legislature. Both the PA House and Senate must pass a bill that defines the district lines, and the governor must sign the bill. Congressional districts are used to elect representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The number of congressional districts depends on the distribution of the population across the U.S. After the 2020 Census, Pennsylvania is losing one congressional seat, due to population changes. This will leave us with 17 congressional seats.

The state legislature is not required to follow any specific criteria when redrawing the congressional districts. This makes the process vulnerable to partisan politics and corruption. In 2018, the PA Supreme Court overturned the congressional map that had been created after the 2010 Census because, according to the Court, it violated the PA Constitution and unfairly favored Republicans.

As Pennsylvania lawmakers create new maps, however, Pennsylvanians can share their perspective with their representatives and hold the legislature accountable for creating a fair congressional map.

Get Involved in Congressional Redistricting

Because both the PA House and Senate need to agree on a map, both chambers are involved in creating the maps. Here are some ways to share your perspective:

More Ways to Get Involved to End Gerrymandering:

Fair Districts PA

Draw the Lines PA

If redistricting is done right, we can make sure that the voting power of all Pennsylvanians is protected for the next decade.