Elections Analysis: What is going on in Pennsylvania?!?


On January 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deemed the 2011 Congressional map unconstitutional. The court stated that the congressional districts needed to be more compact and contiguous, while containing roughly the same number of citizens. Democrat Governor, Tom Wolf and the GOP-led Legislature were tasked to negotiate a compromise in a two-week timeframe, with the fullness of the court decision coming just days before the deadline. The GOP-legislature, the Democratic legislative leaders, and Governor Wolf each released a map. Since no agreement could be made during this impossible time-frame, the Supreme Court announced the new boundaries, completely rewriting each of the 18 legislative districts on February 19. 

The New York Times said that of all the maps released, the lines in the court-issued maps were most favorable stating that, “Democrats couldn't have asked for much more from the new map. It's arguably even better for them than the maps they proposed themselves.”

By playing fast-and-loose with the Pennsylvania Constitution, the PA Supreme Court almost guarantees that Democrats will pick up seats in the upcoming election if their order stands. On their new congressional map, almost all districts have been renumbered, meaning that Pennsylvania's political layout has changed drastically, adding to the mass voter confusion.

In 2011, congressional maps were drawn, struck down, edited, resubmitted, approved by the legislature, and then approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2012. Media outlets claim that the GOP-run Legislature drew the map to give their party an advantage. But if this map had been unconstitutional and blatantly lopsided, then why did 36 Democrats cross party lines when voting in favor of the 2011 map? Furthermore, then Democratic Representatives Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny), Bob Brady (D-Philadelphia), and Mike Doyle (D-Allegheny) lobbied other Democrat Representatives to support the 2011 maps.

Why did the Supreme Court decide to deem these maps unconstitutional months prior to an election? The answer seems to be purely political. The stricken maps had been in use for the last three election cycles without challenge. Suddenly, in swing states with Democratic-led supreme courts, challenges were issued and just months before primaries and amidst candidate petition signing, major changes were made. The most notable changes occurred here in Pennsylvania and in North Carolina. In North Carolina however, a stay was issued by the United States Supreme Court on the basis of federal law cited by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in their decision. However, unlike North Carolina, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explicitly excluded reference to federal law. Because no reference was cited, Justice Alito did not issue a stay in Pennsylvania.

So then, why does the decision making of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seem to be purely political? The court defied its own order by dividing communities in several districts, specifically the former District 8, now District 1. It is outlandish that the court even considered splitting up this district at all. But, it is truly obvious that this is a huge political move, by removing an entire community in the Indian Valley of Montgomery County/Bucks County and replacing it with a division of the eastern section of Landsdale, thus giving Democrats an 3-to-5-point lead in district political performance.

The issue at hand is not the robbing of an election, political breakdowns, voter performance, voter registration, or anything political. The issue is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has blatantly violated the Constitution of the United States by usurping the defined power granted to the Pennsylvania Legislature as defined in Article 1, Section 4: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

The Pennsylvania Legislature has issued several challenges to this court issued power grab and they will play out in the coming weeks.

If the maps issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stand, The Daily Kos Elections political analysis of the new congressional map was featured in BIPAC’s recent newsletter. Jim Ellis summarized each of the current districts and how they would change, his summary is as follows:

District 1 (Former District 8): Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown) will keep 93% of his current district, adding bits from Reps. Brendan Boyle's 13th (D-Philadelphia) and Pat Meehan's (R-Chadds Ford) 7th District. Together, the politically marginal seat becomes two points more Democratic, meaning that Rep. Fitzpatrick could be facing a toss-up re-election if this map stands. President Trump carried the former 8th District by the barest of margins, 48.2 - 48.0%. The new 1st District would have gone to Hillary Clinton, 49.1 - 47.1%.

District 2 (Former District 1 and 13): It appears that Rep. Boyle will have his choice of districts, as his former 13th District is split almost evenly between new District 2, which is more of a Philadelphia city district, and District 4, which is the Montgomery County suburban seat. If Rep. Bob Brady (D-Philadelphia) were seeking re-election, he would likely run here. But, Mr. Boyle will have his choice of Democratic districts. The new 2nd would have voted for Sec. Clinton by a 73-25% margin.

District 3 (Former District 2): The new 3rd appears to be the seat where freshman Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) will seek re-election. The altered configuration contains 80% of the Congressman's previous district and voted 91-7% in favor of Hillary Clinton.

District 4 (Parts of Districts 13, 6, 7, 8 and 2): The new Montgomery County anchored 4th District will likely become an open Democratic seat. Rep. Boyle could run here because this seat has a plurality of territory from his current 13th CD (43.5%), but he would likely opt for new District 2. The new 4th also contains territory from Rep. Ryan Costello's (R-West Chester) 6th District (26.7%), Mr. Meehan's 7th CD (18.8%), and slivers from Reps. Fitzpatrick's 8th, and Rep. Evans' 2nd. This new configuration would have voted for Hillary Clinton in a 58-38% margin spread.

District 5 (Parts of former Districts 7 and 1): Rep. Meehan deciding to retire from the House allowed the court to easily eviscerate his 7th District. About 54% of his previous territory winds up in this new 5th District, with another 40% coming from Rep. Brady's PA-1. This seat will become open and designed to elect a new Democrat. Sec. Clinton would have racked up a 63-34% victory under this district configuration.

District 6 (Remains District 6): Rep. Costello keeps half of his current constituency and gains territory from fellow Republicans Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) and Meehan. But, he largely gets Democratic territory from each of those neighboring districts. Though Ms. Clinton carried the former 6th District, 48.2 - 47.6%, the new 6th would have yielded her winning, 53-43%. Therefore, Mr. Costello will face a very difficult re-election fight.

District 7 (Former District 15): Retiring Rep. Charlie Dent's (R-Allentown) Lehigh Valley district is re-numbered 7, but contains 72% of the previous territory. Adding all of the city of Bethlehem and annexing Democratic Easton takes the seat from comfortably Republican to a virtually even split between the two parties. The previous 15th District went for President Trump, 52-44%. The new 7th would have gone for Hillary Clinton, 49-48%. This will likely be a toss-up open seat campaign.

District 8 (Parts of former Districts 17, 10, and 11): Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Moosic) sees his current seat being split apart. He would likely seek re-election in the new 8th District, which contains his Scranton area political base. The new 8th retains about 48% of Mr. Cartwright's current constituency, and remains a 53-43% Trump domain. The fact that 52% of the new district comes from the Republican districts of Reps. Tom Marino (R-Williamsport) and Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) suggests that this seat could become competitive in the general election. Clearly, Mr. Cartwright is the one sitting Democratic incumbent who fares worse under this map.

District 9 (Parts of former Districts 17, 11, 6, 15, 7, and 16): The new 9th is likely the place where Rep. Barletta would have run for re-election if he were not in the Senate race. This is the other district where Rep. Cartwright could run because 28% of his constituency was sent here, but with a 65-31% Donald Trump win within the new configuration, his victory chances would be very poor. Since 22% of Rep. Costello's 6th District has been placed here, the new 9th could potentially become a landing spot for him even though none of his anchor political base would be included.

District 10 (Former District 4): Almost 60% of Rep. Scott Perry's (R-Dillsburg/ York) comprises new District 10, which becomes the Harrisburg-York district. Democrats gain about six points in comparison to former District 4, but the new 10th would have voted 52-43% for President Trump.

District 11 (Former District 16): Freshman Rep. Smucker sees his new district increase his Republican voting base by almost a net 20 percentage points. Keeping two-thirds of his current Lancaster-anchored district in tact, Mr. Smucker now sees his district going to 61-35% Trump.

District 12 (Former District 10): Rep. Marino gets a new expansive northern Pennsylvania seat that includes 2/3 of his former constituency. His 66-30% former Trump victory percentage remains virtually the same in the new 12th 

District 13 (Parts of former District 9, 12, 4, 11, 5, and 18): If Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Hollidaysburg/Altoona) were seeking re-election, he would run here since 53% of his constituency now resides in this CD. Already a strong Republican region, this new configuration takes the Trump percentage to 71-26%. This seat will feature a competitive open Republican primary, but the winner holds the new district in the general election.

District 14 (Parts of former Districts 18, 9, 12, and 14): With 57% of the former 18th District becoming part of new District 14, the March 13th special election winner will immediately find himself with a new half of a district. The draw is bad news for special election Democratic nominee Conor Lamb. Should he score an unlikely upset in the special, he would face running in a new district that would be five points more Republican than the current 18th. The new 14th went for President Trump, 63-34%.

If special election Republican nominee Rick Saccone wins on 3/13, he will seek re-election in this new seat, which should be even more favorable for him. The problem both men would have, however, is they will still have to compete in the old district on March 13th, but immediately turnaround and engage in a primary election in the new PA-14 on May 15th. This could cause Mr. Saccone, in particular, significant logistical problems since 43% of the new 14th is not included in the current District 18 and more Republicans would be likely to file in CD-14 primary because of its favorability to a GOP candidate.

District 15 (Parts of former District 5, 9, 3, and 12): Most of Rep. Glenn Thompson's (R-Howard) rural north PA district (57%) is included in new District 15. He would have little trouble in a general election, but might find himself vulnerable in a GOP primary. President Trump carried the new 15th, 70-27%.

District 16 (Former District 3): Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler/Erie) would keep 80% of his constituency intact, and would have little trouble seeking re-election. His seat becomes a net six percent more Democratic, but the Trump margin was still a solid 58-38%.

District 17 (Parts of former Districts 12, 14, 18, and 3): Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) is another Republican incumbent who finds himself in a more difficult political situation. He keeps 56% of his current constituency, but inherits over 21% from Rep. Mike Doyle's (D-Pittsburgh) Democratic CD. This takes Rothfus' Republican percentage down to 49-47% Trump, a net 19 percentage point move in the Democrats' favor.

District 18 (Former District 14): Rep. Doyle keeps 76% of his Pittsburgh anchored district, and will have little trouble winning re-election despite the district becoming a net ten points more Republican.