Pennsylvania voters should have an idea what the new congressional districts will look like this fall.
Every 10 years the state goes through redistricting, which is a legislative process in which the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts are redrawn based on census numbers.
This year Pennsylvania will lose one congressional seat.
Steve Miskin, House majority leader Mike Turzai’s press secretary, explained that congressional reapportionment is much different than state reapportionment.
To draw new congressional districts the proposal will come in the form of a bill, which will pass through committees, the House and Senate, and the governor’s office. Miskin said leaders expect to have a draft of the bill ready for sometime in September or October. Hearings have been held in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas for residents to voice their opinions and concerns.
“It is something Senate leadership as well as other House leadership is very interested in and have been actively discussing with people,” he said.
The state House and Senate will not lose any seats, but the legislative districts will be redrawn. The four legislative leaders and a judge will meet to redraw the state boundaries based on population. After the commission puts out a plan, the House and Senate will vote on the proposal.
State party officials are hoping that the new lines are drawn in a fair and balanced way.
State Democratic Chairman Jim Burn said he would like to see an open, fair and transparent process that allows easy access for constituents and their elected officials.
“Our concern is when all the power is in the hands of the Republicans, they may be tempted to draw lines in a fashion to consolidate power, protecting their turf,” he said. “Build bridges instead of castles. That’s what we know would be in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians.”
Burn said he has no reason to believe that Republicans will not do the right thing and create a fair map.
“They need to live up to their campaign promises,” he said. “A lot of these folks rode into power campaigning on open, fair, transparent government.”
Rob Gleason, chairman of the state Republican Party, would also like to see fair and balanced districts.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “I think the districts should be as fair and balanced as possible.”
Gerrymandering is the process of drawing lines to benefit a particular party. A prime example of this is the 12th Congressional District.
“It goes from Ohio up to Johnstown,” he said. “It’s like a big question mark.”
Gleason said representatives in the eastern part of the state and in the Pittsburgh area sometimes draw lines to favor incumbents. Gleason is confident that the Republican Party could pick up a few more seats without lines drawn in their favor.
“I am not sure that is so important,” he said. “We almost beat (U.S. Rep. Mark) Critz and he had the registration edge. I think a good candidate always overcomes registration.”
Burn warns that if Republicans draw lines that favor them instead of constituents, some may see a backlash. In North Carolina, public opinion polls came out against the state Legislature after the congressional district maps were released.
“Folks are watching what they do and there will be consequences,” Burn said. “Even if they are worst-case scenario the safest district in the world cannot save Republicans from poor leadership. They should do it right, right out of the gate.”
Congressional candidates usually announce their intent to run the summer before the primary.
In 2009 Bill Russell started sending out correspondence in May and on June 22, Tim Burns announced he would run against U.S. Rep. John Murtha. But a lot of races have been quiet and officials say it is because everyone is waiting until the lines are redrawn.
“I think a lot of people around here are waiting to see what happens, to see if there will even be a 12th,” he said.