The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Feb. 19 released a new congressional map for the state, one that will be implemented before the 2018 elections, but after the forthcoming special election to succeed Rep Tim Murphy, who resigned late last year.
Overall the map is significantly more compact and splits far fewer counties than the existing map or most other proposals. It is also somewhat more favorable to Democrats than the prior map, but does not erase the Republican bias of the state entirely and leaves most voters in landslide districts for one party. The overall shift is modest: according to our projection methodology in Monopoly Politics, compared to the old map, this map would give Democrats one additional seat in an even, 50-50 year, and it would give them two additional seats in a year that favors Democrats by more than half of a percent.
Democrats gain at least one new pickup opportunity in the 7th District, move what was once a safe Republican seat before Rep. Pat Meehan’s retirement into the safe Democratic column, and maintain their ability to contend across the map. They also stay in the race in Rep. Matthew Cartwright’s significantly Republican shifted seat, which many experts thought might become too Republican-leaning to hold under the new proposal.
How favorable is this map for Democrats? That depends on the environment for incumbents and the overall trends for Democrats or Republicans. A less incumbent-friendly or more-Democratic environment could easily swamp Rep. Ryan Costello (R-06), who stays in the lean column at present, largely due to his incumbency and high historical performance. Given the current congressional generic ballot and anti-incumbency sentiment, as well as the significant new Democratic lean of his seat, Democrats are probably assuming this seat will go blue.
This map probably represents that apex of what is possible under a single winner districting regime. Its districts are relatively compact, it preserves a significant degree of competition, it will likely lead to more proportional outcomes, and it avoids splitting counties and municipalities to an admirable degree. However, that comes at the cost of continuing to leave most voters locked in safe districts. American voters deserve a system that is more competitive and proportional and descriptive of their preferences and identities, and one that gets it right without the need to fight it out in court.
Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis as we get more information on the new map. FairVote agrees that districts should not be intentionally gerrymandered for a particular outcome, and while the courts’ entry into this field is long overdue, we encourage states to address the issue proactively, rather than reactively. Best of all would be to combine independent redistricting with a fair voting method in multi-winner elections. That is why we most strongly support the Fair Representation Act.