Redistricting

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoes Pennsylvania congressional map sent to him by Republicans

by Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA |

Gov. Tom Wolf
TYGER WILLIAMS / Philadelphia Inquirer

This article is part of a yearlong reporting project focused on redistricting and gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. It is made possible by the support of Spotlight PA members and Votebeat, a project focused on election integrity and voting access.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a congressional map sent to him by Republican lawmakers, leaving the monumental job of picking Pennsylvania’s next district lines to the state courts.

In a veto message issued late Wednesday, Wolf said the map failed “the test of fundamental fairness.”

“The people of Pennsylvania deserve a fair election map that promotes accountability and responsiveness to voters and is drawn in an open and honest way,” he said. “The public deserves a fair map completed in a bipartisan manner; the General Assembly failed to adopt one.”

The map sent to Wolf by the GOP-controlled legislature was initially drawn by Amanda Holt — a noted redistricting reform advocate and former Lehigh County commissioner — and championed by state Rep. Seth Grove (R., York). It was amended by Grove’s legislative committee after GOP members of the panel criticized how their counties were split.

It improves upon four fairness criteria outlined in a previous state Supreme Court ruling, but nonpartisan analyses show it has a partisan bias in favor of Republicans.

“This is truly an historic day in our state. Never in our state’s history has a congressional map been drawn by a resident and then approved by the Legislature,” Grove said after the map was sent to the governor earlier this week. “It is now up to Wolf to follow the will of the people and sign this bill into law.”

Every 10 years, Pennsylvania redraws its congressional boundaries to account for population changes. Because of the state’s sluggish growth, Pennsylvania will lose one of its 18 seats in Washington.

With Wolf’s veto, the state judicial system is now likely to have the final say.

In response to suits filed by two groups of Pennsylvanians in December, Commonwealth Court asked the citizen petitioners, Wolf, top Republicans and Democrats, and good-government advocates to submit their own proposed maps.

The court will host hearings Thursday and Friday to consider 14 different proposals. It could issue a ruling as soon as Jan. 30 — the original deadline it set for Wolf and the legislature to come to an agreement — but redistricting observers expect the decision to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

In recent days, legislators in the state Senate said they were still working on a compromise map that all four caucuses and Wolf could agree to. But on Monday, the chamber’s majority leader, Sen. Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland), told reporters the parties were at an impasse.

“And it just comes down to: We can’t agree,” she said. “The governor is going to veto anything that is not what he produced, and the courts will wind up drawing maps.”

House Republicans had criticized Wolf for not negotiating a map with lawmakers, which the Democratic governor said in December was not his role. He surprised many by releasing his own proposal on Jan. 15.

Wolf had previously stated that he would veto the map advanced by Republicans if it was not amended, criticizing its lack of partisan fairness and the way it split communities of interest — defined as a geographic area or group of people that share common values.

Close observers of the redistricting process had predicted the congressional map was likely to be decided by the state Supreme Court, which currently has a 5-2 Democratic majority.

In 2018, the high court threw out the previous cycle’s congressional map after finding it was a partisan gerrymander that violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. After the General Assembly and Wolf were unable to reach an agreement, the court adopted a map drawn by a Stanford professor.

Currently, the state’s 18-member delegation is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

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