FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2015, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, center, accompanied by state House Minority Leader Rep. Frank Dermody, right, D-Allegheny, and state Rep. Joe Markosek, left, D-Allegheny, discuss state budget negotiations at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. It's deadline day in Pennsylvania's gerrymandering case for Democratic Gov. Wolf and others to submit maps of new congressional district boundaries that they want the state's Supreme Court to adopt. The midnight deadline Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, gives justices four more days to impose new boundaries, just three months before Pennsylvania's primary elections. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Ideas to redraw maps beat deadline in gerrymandering case

February 15, 2018 - 11:40 pm

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — New proposals to redraw Pennsylvania's congressional districts rolled in Thursday in a high-stakes gerrymandering case, meeting a court-ordered deadline to submit maps of boundaries for the state Supreme Court to consider adopting for this year's election.

Submitting maps were the group of registered Democratic voters who sued successfully to invalidate the current map, plus Pennsylvania's House Democrats and Senate Democrats and a group of Republican activists who intervened in the case. Republican lawmakers submitted a plan last week and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was expected to submit one late Thursday night.

Pennsylvania's congressional map is widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered. Upending it could boost Democrats nationally in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House and dramatically change the state's predominantly Republican, all-male delegation. Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters could find themselves in different districts.

Among many differences in the suggested maps are how many times Montgomery County is split up, which counties are packaged with the city of Reading and whether incumbent congressmen are kept in their districts.

Lawyers for the Democratic voters said their maps produced an expected result of nine Democrats and nine Republicans, with a slight tilt toward Republicans perhaps reflecting "the small natural advantage that Republicans hold due to the clustering of Democratic voters."

While lawmakers were careful to keep incumbent members of Congress in their districts, the plaintiffs felt no such obligation.

In one of the Democratic voters' maps, Republican Reps. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County and Ryan Costello of Chester County were bundled together. In another map, Republican Reps. Glenn Thompson of Centre County and Tom Marino of Lycoming County were tied into the same district.

The Democratic voters redrew districts liberally, ignoring boundaries in the 6-year-old maps drawn by Republicans to help Republicans get elected. In one map, they drew the city of Reading into a district reaching north into Luzerne County, ignoring Republicans' wishes to package the Democratic city with heavily Republican Lancaster County.

The Democratic voters reduced Montgomery County to one split, instead of three splits suggested by Republican lawmakers. Meanwhile, their drawings substantially changed how northwestern Pennsylvania would look, connecting Erie County to rural counties east of it that currently form much of the 5th District.

Another key question is whether Democrat Conor Lamb, running in southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District left vacant by Republican Tim Murphy's resignation, will find himself in a Pittsburgh-based district with Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle.

The midnight deadline gives justices four more days to impose new boundaries under a timeline the divided court set to keep May's primary election on schedule.

Republican lawmakers say they will swiftly ask federal judges to block a new map, and contend that the Democratic-majority court had no power to invalidate the congressional boundaries or draw new ones.

The court will be advised by Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily, who has assisted judges drawing districts in North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland. The justices could pick a submitted map, or rely on Persily to draw one.

Pennsylvania's Republican Senate majority leader, Jake Corman, on Thursday warned anew that the tight timeline would create chaos in Pennsylvania's congressional primaries, and the court-ordered process would unconstitutionally usurp the role of the governor and Legislature.

Leaders of the state Legislature's huge Republican majorities submitted a map Friday, although Wolf rejected it, saying it was as gerrymandered as the map it would replace. Lawyers for the Democratic voters criticized it as a "naked partisan gerrymander."

That 6-year-old map, crafted by Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor's office after the 2010 census, succeeded in its aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections, even though Pennsylvania's statewide elections are often closely divided and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

In drawing it, Republicans broke decades of precedent and created bizarrely shaped districts.

The court threw it out last month, saying it unconstitutionally put partisan interests above other line-drawing criteria, such as eliminating municipal and county divisions and keeping districts compact.

The revised map Republicans submitted ironed out some of the most contorted boundaries. It also kept nearly 70 percent of residents — and every congressman — in their old districts in what Republicans called an effort to minimize disruption, although it shifted key Democratic challengers into new districts and Wolf criticized it as keeping "nearly 70 percent of residents in districts the court found unconstitutional."

The court gave no direction to protect incumbent lawmakers or to keep previous districts largely intact.

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