Each decade after the U.S. Census is completed, the Pennsylvania State Congress must account for the shifts in population by redrawing the district map to ensure each district contains relatively the same amount of people, to follow the U.S. court’s one-man, one-vote rule. With approval from both the State House and Senate, the 18 district Congressional map was ready to go into effect until a historic Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision rejected it, causing turmoil for voters, potential candidates, and elected officials as well.
New Congressional maps are designed by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is a bipartisan group of Representatives, usually chaired by an appointed judge. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court returned the proposed map stating that it needed further revision, but many justices left for a Bar Association function in Puerto Rico, delaying their opinions of how to improve the new Congressional map, without which the commission cannot move forward.
A newly revised map is not expected to be completed any time soon, as the Commission spent six months designing their first proposal. Exacerbated by the delay of the Supreme Court’s guidance, and the fast approach of the candidates’ deadline to submit petitions for the spring ballot, justices have stated that the old map, drawn after the 2000 Census, would stay in place until the 2014 elections.
The decision to continue the usage of the old map has caused problems bordering on chaos for the entire state. The U.S. census showed population decline in western PA, creating districts too small for constituents, and population growth in eastern PA, which made districts too large and has prompted an appeal the Supreme Court’s decision, saying the existing map is unconstitutional.
Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Sam Smith (R-66), stated that with population shifts since 2001, the existing map violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as the state Constitution. “Speaker Smith is absolutely correct,” says State Senator Bob Mensch (R-29), “my Senate district alone is 35,000 over the standard deviation.”
Not only does the existing map cause problems with representation, it also creates mass confusion for voters. “Voters in the west may vote for a seat that doesn’t remain there,” Mensch stated, “and voters in the east will not have the opportunity to vote within the new design and so will likely not be voting for their Senator or Representative”.
Potential congressional candidates have also been thrown headlong into this confusion. Districts where candidates were readying their petitions for the April 24th primary have now found that the districts they planned to run in no longer exist.
While Republicans are confused by the Supreme Court’s decision, many Democrats had called the Commission’s new redistricting plan a “travesty” that the GOP was using for political gain, and are probably relieved by the justices’ narrow 4-3 ruling. Representative Marcy Toepel (R-147) urges, “the Court needs to give immediate direction to the Commission,” in order to make the future clearer for voters, members of congress, and candidates.