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How to get involved in Pa.’s redistricting process

Plus, Pa. scales back COVID-19 tracing as cases rise.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

August 19, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Map run, trace amounts, COVID-19 updates, redistricting role, safe state, 'election integrity,' siege suspect, and a prison contract controversy.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE:  In the past three days, 144 of your neighbors contributed to Spotlight PA and helped us unlock a $5,000 matching gift. But we still need your support, so join them and give now »
A months-long delay is over, the U.S. Census Bureau data is in, and the clock is officially ticking for those in charge of redrawing Pennsylvania's political maps — a process that will help determine the balance of power in Harrisburg and Washington for years to come.

Sarah Anne Hughes reports the data show Pennsylvania's population is growing — topping 13 million in 2020 — but not fast enough to keep all 18 of its U.S. congressional seats, one of which will be drawn out of existence in this year's round of redistricting. (Keep reading for tips on how members of the public can get involved.)

Pennsylvania is also less white and more concentrated in and near cities than it was during the last census 10 years ago, a fact with key implications for lawmakers drawing new state House and state Senate boundaries

Among the state's 67 counties, the population in 44 declined during that decade-long span, with rural counties in the western and northern parts of Pennsylvania seeing the greatest losses and southeast and south-central counties seeing the greatest gains. 

Also this week, Jamie Martines reports at least 100 new contact tracers are being brought on to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, but the number is a dramatic reduction from earlier levels and well below what experts say the state currently needs.

Health officials could request up to 200 additional contact tracers plus support staff under the $9 million contract, but one public health professor told Spotlight PA even 300 seems paltry with cases high and vaccinations slow.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

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"Unfortunately, the reason this has become a hot button issue is that this process has been abused in the past."

—David Thornburgh, CEO of Committee of Seventy, on how past gerrymandering brought new attention to this year's redistricting process

COVID-19 UPDATES: The AP reports two statewide teachers unions also want masks required in schools; the state won't do that but will offer free COVID-19 testing; Philadelphia Catholics seeking vaccine exemptions won't get help from the church, per CBS3; and Pfizer and Moderna booster shots are expected next month, per Axios.
» CLIMBING COVID: Join us Wednesday, Aug. 25 at noon via Zoom for a free Q&A on what we know about rising COVID-19 cases and the state's vaccine distribution efforts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine

» What renters in Pa. need to know about available relief, the new eviction ban

How to get involved in the redistricting process

It's an event that comes just once every ten years. No, not the emergence of a new brood of cicadas or another recession or the blooming of a corpse flower.

The special occasion is the drawing of new political maps, prompted by the release of new decennial census data. The process may seem wonky, but "redistricting is really the foundation of almost everything in our democracy," Suzanne Almeida of Common Cause told Spotlight PA.

Here are a few ways to make sure your voice is heard. Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA

Attend a meeting

The Republican-controlled legislature will draw the congressional map through a bill that must be approved by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

After a not-very-transparent process in 2011, Republicans in the state House have vowed that this time around will be different. Rep. Seth Grove — chair of the House State Government Committee, where consideration of the map will begin in the chamber — is holding several regional meetings through October that will be live-streamed.

The Senate State Government Committee has held a few meetings to solicit input but has yet to announce future dates.

Pennsylvania's state House and Senate maps, meanwhile, are drawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which consists of four legislative leaders and an appointed chair. The panel's next hearing will be held Aug. 24 in Harrisburg and additional dates will be announced.

Submit feedback

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is accepting testimony through its website, while the House State Government Committee is accepting written testimony based on region.

The committee also has a tool that allows people to comment on the current congressional map and one that lets Pennsylvanians define their own community of interest — a critical idea in mapmaking that helps keep people with similar goals and concerns grouped together in the same district. 

"So much of what we're used to is lawmakers not listening to us," Almeida of Common Cause said. "We need to collectively hold the people drawing the maps to task."

Draw your own map

Unlike a decade ago, there are now several free tools — including DistrictBuilder and Dave's Redistricting — that allow anyone with internet access to build their own congressional and legislative maps.

David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the good-government group Committee of Seventy, said thousands of people have drawn their own maps as part of the Draw the Lines initiative. This allows them to see that it's possible to draw maps with compact, contiguous districts, as required by the state constitution, that don't unfairly benefit one political party over another. 

"That map-drawing power has been democratized," he said.

Lawmakers involved in both congressional and legislative redistricting are soliciting maps drawn by average Pennsylvanians. You can upload your own House and Senate maps to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and a congressional map to the House State Government Committee.

PA REFUGE: Aided by local humanitarian groups, refugees from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have begun arriving in Pennsylvania, WHYY reports, joining nearly 1,000 who came here in the past decade. Gov. Tom Wolf's office told the Capital-Star of accepting more: "We are monitoring this evolving situation in the event that [government] support is needed."

'HIJACKED': An illegal "election integrity law" with strict rules around mail ballots, photo ID, and dropboxes was adopted by Lehigh Township officials and later rescinded. But The Inquirer says the episode "shows how Donald Trump's lies of a stolen election are sowing discord in everyday life and hijacking the machinery of municipal government."

OFFICIAL SIEGE: The chairman of the East Cocalico Township Recreation Board, Edward McAlanis, is facing federal charges after he was seen on video entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, Fox43 reports. More than 600 people have been charged in the Capitol riot. NPR made a database of every known case.

PRISON ABUSE: York County officials want to expand a relationship with a problematic contractor whose training of guards at the county's prison led to reports of imprisoned people being threatened with weapons and shackled with their genitals exposed, per York Dispatch. The same contractor also pepper-sprayed deputies in another state, York Daily Record adds.

SNEAK PEEK: Bipartisan election reform legislation coming out of the state Senate will avoid the kind of heightened voter ID rule that sank a GOP-led proposal in June. Instead, City & State reports, the pitch is focused on pre-canvassing of mail ballots, mail ballot tracking, dropboxes, and relevant application deadlines.

» CITY & STATE: Former Republican brings new third party to Pa.

» PENNLIVE: Pa. uses tax dollars to lure prestigious golf tournaments

» TIMES LEADER: Forty Fort man sentenced for 'dead voter' fraud

» WESA: School district bans critical race theory it doesn't teach

» WPSU: Penn State faculty have 'no confidence' in COVID-19 plan
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

EMPIRE STYLE (Case No. 106)How can the number four be half of five? 

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Last week's answer: NOON. (Find last week's clue here.)
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