The Pennsylvania House on Dec. 20 voted 136-61 to approve a legislative redistricting plan (SB 1249) that will affect voters in Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties. The Pennsylvania Senate approved the measure on Dec. 14, largely along party lines (26-24).
Congressional redistricting occurs every decade after the U.S. Census is completed. The last census showed that Pennsylvania’s population growth slowed, resulting in the loss of one U.S. House seat. The proposed final redistricting plan, created by a five-member bipartisan panel, redraws the Pennsylvania Congressional map into 18 districts, with each district representing about 705,000 people.
Under the redistricting plan, the 6th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R), would be reworked to include East Greenville, Pennsburg and Red Hill. Those areas currently are in the 15th District, represented by Republican Congressman Charlie Dent (R). A portion of Upper Hanover (District 3) and of Hereford (District 2) also would be moved to the 6th.
The 7th District – which now spans Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties – would be redrawn to include portions of Horsham, Upper Dublin, Lower Gwynedd, East Norriton, Perkiomen, Plymouth, Skippack, Springfield, Towamencin, Upper Gwynedd, Upper Merion, West Norriton, Whitemarsh, Whitpain and Worcester in Montgomery County. The district is represented by U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R).
District 8, represented by U.S. Rep Mike Fitzpatrick (R), would reach further north into areas previously represented by Dent. The new areas of the district would include Franconia, Hatfield, Lower Frederick, Lower Salford, Marlborough, Salford, Upper Frederick, Upper Hanover (Districts 1 and 2) and Upper Salford townships, as well as the following boroughs: Green Lane, Hatfield, Souderton and Telford. While he would maintain representation of all of Bucks County, Fitzpatrick would no longer represent parts of Montgomery County or northeast Philadelphia.
Dent’s 15th District would extend further west into Berks, Lebanon and Dauphin counties, while cutting Upper Bucks and northern Montgomery counties.
The changes would carve Montgomery County into five different districts that would be represented by Bob Brady (D-2), Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Meehan and Allyson Schwartz (D-13). Berks County would be represented by Dent, Gerlach, Meehan and U.S Rep. Joseph Pitts (R).
The proposal, which has now entered a 30-day public review period, has stirred up controversy across the state. Democrats strongly oppose the plan, saying that the GOP is using the redistricting process for political gain.
Voter registration statistics from 2011 show that several areas that could be affected by the redistricting have a Democratic majority and the redistricting plan could help Republicans shore up support in these areas.
For example, nearly 49 percent of voters in Berks County are registered Democrats, compared with 37 percent who are registered Republican. Likewise, in Montgomery County, 46 percent of residents are registered Democrats, while 39 percent are registered Republican. The trend continues in Bucks (44 percent Democrat vs. 41 percent Republican) and Lehigh (50 percent Democrat vs. 34 percent Republican) counties.
In a statement on her website, State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11), who represents Berks County, called the redistricting plan a “travesty.”
“It is completely and totally unnecessary to divide up our county except, of course, to ensure a political stranglehold on this legislature and Congress,” Schwank said in the statement. “The new 7th Congressional district, which snakes its way into Berks, is a disgrace. It is the absolute definition of the word ‘gerrymander.’”
However, state Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-147) in an e-mail said, “This process, while imperfect, has taken months to complete. The districts moved based on the state’s population shift, which showed growth in the west. Everything is then filled in from there.
“Redistricting is a political process crafted through negotiations. If a district is deemed too outrageously drawn, the courts will step in and act as an impartial arbiter to correct these. Since the rule of ‘one person, one vote’ must be maintained, the districts cannot be drawn in straight, linear blocks. Do I like the process? No. But it’s the best system we have for now.”