Pennsylvania Republicans don’t do subtle. They’ve long relied on rigged maps to ensure a GOP supermajority in the legislature, despite the state being more or less evenly divided. And now that voters are demanding fairer districts that would probably lead to a smaller Republican majority, they’re fighting like hell to stop it.
To wit, York Republican Seth Grove, Chair of the House State Government Committee, is proposing a constitutional amendment to ratf*ck the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC), which recently produced new maps after the state lost a congressional seat. In Grove’s telling, replacing the non-partisan commissioners with “citizens” would make the process more democratic. Except that his plan is for the legislators themselves to appoint those “citizens,” meaning that they can effectively choose their own voters.
And in case that wasn’t clear enough, the amendment would force an immediate redrawing of the map, so that Republicans could gerrymander themselves back into a supermajority in time for 2024.
The governor has no power to veto a constitutional amendment. And if the legislators bring it for a vote in the low-turnout municipal elections in May of 2023, their bill is likely to pass — particularly because they’ll call it a non-partisan citizen’s commission dedicated to good government.
The “citizens” will immediately redraw the maps, but if they can’t agree then it will wind up back at the legislature. What a coincidence!
This brings us to about the beginning of September 2023 when the new commission must approve a preliminary redistricting plan by a two-thirds vote. Chances of that happening are slim and none because the commission is stacked with partisan appointees with no incentive to compromise.
Finally, Step Five: Because the bi-partisan “citizens commission” has failed to pass a preliminary plan by the deadline – just 60 days after they were appointed – the Senate and House take over and each pass a final district map for their own chamber. Not by a two-thirds vote, but by a simple majority of Republicans.
And there you have it. Everything returns to normal when Republicans are elected in large numbers in the November 2024 general election based on their newly drawn maps. Crisis averted.
Or, as Grove told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We’ll put citizens out there, we’ll see what citizens can do with the map, and then we’ll have the final check to make sure there’s no skulduggery at the end of the day.”
And lo, lightning did not strike him down on the spot.
The amendment passed out of Committee this morning on a party line vote. Yep, very subtle.
Pennsylvania Republicans are planning a redistricting redo in time for the 2024 election [Pennsylvania Capital-Star]
Pennsylvania Republicans want a lot more power in redistricting for state maps [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.