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What makes a political map fair?

Here’s what this redistricting cycle revealed.

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 23, 2022
Fair fault lines, Dominion decision, federal case, bid backers, ground rules, I-95 charges, and Trader Joe's opening day. It's Wednesday. Welcome.
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What makes a political map fair? The question is a defining one for any redistricting cycle, and Pennsylvania's recently completed round was no different. This time, "partisan fairness," in particular, proved pivotal.

While the term lacks a standard definition, Democrats and good-government groups say it must be considered to satisfy the state constitution, while Republicans argue that four traditional mapmaking criteria — as well as Pennsylvania's political geography — should be the deciding factors. 

Ultimately, the state Supreme Court made the call, endorsing partisan fairness as a key redistricting concept and a driving force behind maps set to guide the balance of power in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., for years to come.

Here's what Spotlight PA has learned about the crucial concept.

THE HIGHLIGHTS: Broadly speaking, partisan fairness measures whether a map reflects the political leaning of a state.

It can be measured with metrics — spelled out in the link above — that use past election data to predict results based on the proposed district lines. 

In 2018, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court threw out the state's congressional map with a decision touting the free and equal elections clause of the state constitution, which guarantees that each vote has the same power.

This cycle saw congressional map petitioners affiliated with good-government groups and Democrats arguing that partisan fairness needs to be a central consideration in order to meet those constitutional marks.

In the end, the high court agreed, but Republicans say Pennsylvania's "natural political geography" favors Republican voters and that valuing partisan fairness artificially and unfairly balances the rural-urban divide.

Unhappy with court decisions around political maps, Republicans here and in other states are looking to limit the role of courts in the redistricting process.
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"We have to end this trope of the Protestant work ethic that demands an unrelenting commitment to work at the expense of the health of our households in our communities."

—State Rep. Chris Rabb (D., Philadelphia) who proposes moving 77,000 state employees to a four-day work week to study the option's impact
A stunning sunset in Clarion, courtesy of @samanthasearsmusicSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DOMINION CASE: Pennsylvania's highest court has sided with Dominion Voting Systems in the company's bid to ensure that any inspection of its voting machines for a GOP inquiry into Pennsylvania's 2020 election be done by a lab with federal credentials. The vendor already hired by state Senate Republicans to conduct the review is unaccredited. The state Supreme Court ruled along party lines.

CASE BUILD: Federal prosecutors say evidence collected at the Carlisle home of an "upper-tier" member of the Proud Boys is enough to charge more members of the violent right-wing extremist group in connection with the U.S. Capitol siege, LNP reports. Two warrants were carried out at John Charles Stewart's home. Authorities say they yielded new evidence establishing the group's "criminal objective" on Jan. 6.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's bid for governor is getting a boost from a Democratic dark money group that has already spent more than $1 million booking laudatory ads, per The Inquirer. NBC reports Shapiro is also doubling down on abortion rights, which could boost Democratic turnout in the November. But there are risks, and some observers question his timing.

DEBATE RULES: Four leading GOP candidates for governor — Lou Barletta, Jake Corman, Bill McSwain, and Dave White — have signed a letter saying they won't participate in primary debates unless the moderator is a registered Republican, has not spoken negatively about them, and does not work for a critical outlet. The Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari says this rules out "virtually any nonpartisan news org." 

CHARGES FILED: A 21-year-old Eagleville woman named Jayana Tanae Webb is charged with third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while DUI, and related offenses stemming from a crash on I-95 in Philadelphia that killed two Pennsylvania State Police troopers and 28-year-old Rivera Oliveras of Allentown on Monday, NBC10 reports. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered flags to fly at half-staff through Friday.
WAGE WORK: A state regulatory commission has approved new pay rules for restaurant servers and others receiving a "tipped minimum wage." PennLive reports that the amount in tips a worker must receive monthly before the employer can reduce their pay from $7.25-per-hour to the tipped minimum wage of $2.83-per-hour would rise from $30 to $135 under the update.

DEER NEWS: WJAC reports dozens of deer have fallen to their deaths from an overpass in Elk County and PennDOT is being urged to intervene. In happier news, a Game Commission sharpshooter used an impeccably placed shot to free a deer with a trapped antler in Berks County.

SPELL CHECK: Philly's 1975 Spelling Bee champ, Mary Brockenbrough Sears, is now a Harvard librarian, Billy Penn reports. The city's spelling competition is also still a thing. This year's will be held on Saturday, March 26 at Penn Alexander School with WHYY and Billy Penn hosting.

OPENING DAY: Trader Joe's will open its Camp Hill location — the area's first — with a ribbon-cutting on Thursday, March 31, The Burg reports. The store will be at 3545 Gettysburg Road (aka the site of the old Bon-Ton).

AUCTION CALL: A one-ounce gold bar, a Rolex, and gold coins are among the items up for sale today and tomorrow in an online auction of unclaimed property held by Pennsylvania's Treasury Office, Capital-Star reports.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Outer space
Yesterday's answer: Intergalactic

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Bonnie R., Michelle T., Vicki U., Craig W., Susan N.-Z., Doris T., Karen W., Barbara F., Judith D., Don H., Jodi R., Deb N., Art W., Elizabeth W., John A., Pat B., Johnny C., Kay G., Elaine C., Beth T., Kimberly S., Keith F., George S., James B., Daniel M., Jude M., Eddy Z., Dianne K., Bill S., Marisa B., Kyle C., Edward G., David W., and Michael K.
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