Partisan Gerrymandering Lawsuit
Frequently Asked Questions
What is redistricting?
The U.S. Constitution vests each state with the power to redraw its congressional districts (for the U.S. House of Representatives) every ten years. As a state’s population changes (something determined every ten years by the census), its congressional districts must change as well. This reallocation is subject to certain restrictions, including that all districts must have the same population. The process of redrawing district lines is called redistricting.
What is partisan gerrymandering?
Partisan gerrymandering is the drawing of congressional or state legislative district lines to favor one political party over the other. A party will place voters in particular districts so that it can secure a greater share of representatives for itself than would be expected from its overall percentage of actual votes—thus maximizing its number of seats it wins for any given share of the overall statewide vote.
Partisan gerrymandering is accomplished through two basic strategies. First, voters of one party are “packed” into a small number of districts, so that the party’s candidates win by large margins in those districts, but the party has fewer voters left for the remaining districts. Second, the remaining voters of the party (not in packed districted) are “cracked,” or spread out, across the remaining districts, so that they cannot constitute a majority in any of those districts. Both strategies are intended to increase what are called wasted votes. These are votes cast either for a losing candidate (in the case of cracking) or for a winning candidate in excess of what was required for victory (in the case of packing)
What is the problem in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, congressional districts are created through the regular legislative process; namely, a bill adopted by the state legislature and signed by the governor. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature and governor passed a congressional districting plan that, through “packing and cracking,” was intended to maximize the number of seats Republicans would win in future elections.
And it worked. In the next congressional election, in 2012, Republicans won only 49% of the statewide vote but still managed to win 13 out of 18 seats (72.2%) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans have won the same number of seats in each election since the plan took effect, although the Republican vote statewide has never been higher than 55%. Pennsylvania’s plan is among the most extreme examples of partisan gerrymandering in the country.
Why should I be concerned?
Our case is not about supporting the rights of Democratic voters; it is about supporting the rights of all voters. All voters have an interest in making sure that elections reflect the choices of the people; not the choices of politicians. When politicians draw their own lines, they have less of an interest in listening to their voters or in making compromises to benefit everyone. We all have a stake in having fair elections.
Who is responsible?
The 2011 Plan was passed by Republicans in the General Assembly and signed into law by then-Governor Corbett.
Why bring this case now?
Now, after having observed two Presidential elections and three congressional elections, it is apparent to many voters that the plan has infringed upon their constitutional rights.
What are the legal claims?
We allege that the 2011 plan violates several clauses of the Pennsylvania Constitution, including the Free Expression and Association Clauses, the Equal Projection Guarantees, and the Free and Equal Clause.
Who is bringing this case?
The case is being brought by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and individual voters from each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts.
Who is being sued?
We are suing: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; the Pennsylvania General Assembly; Governor Tom Wolf; Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortés; Commissioner Jonathan Marks of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation; Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack; Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Mike Turzai; and, the President Pro-Tempore of the State Senate Joseph Scarnati.
Why are state officials who did not create the maps being sued?
They are being sued in their official capacities as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary, etc. They are responsible for implementing the 2011 plan and would be responsible for implementing the relief we seek.
What are you asking the court to do?
We want the court to declare the 2011 plan unconstitutional and prevent its use in future congressional elections. We call for the creation of a new plan that does not violate the fundamental rights of Pennsylvanians to equal representation and does not use data regarding a voter’s political affiliations. If successful, our case could also deter the state legislature from engaging again in extreme partisan gerrymandering when it redraws the map in 2021.
How do you prove partisan gerrymandering?
In addition to looking at the bizarre district shapes in Pennsylvania and skewed voting results described above, political scientists and mathematicians have developed a number of ways to identify partisan gerrymandering.
One way is to use computer modeling to create alternative maps that would meet traditional criteria for drawing districts—such as making the districts compact, requiring that they all have the same population, and not splitting apart counties into different districts—but do not take politics into account. Doing this for Pennsylvania, thousands of alternative maps can be drawn that meet these criteria, and none of these alternative maps would have resulted in Republicans winning 13 of 18 seats given how many votes Republicans actually received in each of the last three elections. This shows that the actual plan must have been drawn with the intent to benefit Republicans. In other words, it could not have occurred by chance.
In addition, political scientists have developed separate tests known as the “efficiency gap” and the “mean-median gap.” The efficiency gap is the difference between each party’s wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. When both parties’ wasted votes are roughly equal, then a map’s efficiency gap is small. However, when one party wastes significantly more votes than the other party, then a map is gerrymandered in favor of the other party. Pennsylvania had the largest efficiency gap in the nation in the 2012 congressional elections.
The mean-median gap is determined by first looking at a party’s vote share in each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts. It then calculates the average, or mean, of those vote shares, and the vote share of the median district—the district where that party performed middle-best among the 18 total vote shares. If the vote share of the median district is significantly lower than the statewide average, that shows that voters of one party are packed into a few, concentrated districts, and the map is gerrymandered.
Does this happen in other states?
Yes. Gerrymandering has been around since the founding of the country, but in recent years it has become more extreme as computer mapping and the availability of voter data have grown. It is engaged in by both Republicans and Democrats.
Are there other ways to fix the system?
Yes. The best way to achieve a permanent fix is through either legislation or an amendment to the state constitution which would change the way Pennsylvania redraws the lines for congressional districts so that politicians do not have complete control of the redistricting process. One of the most popular proposed changes (already in place in California) is for bipartisan citizens committees, rather than the state legislature, to handle redistricting.
What is the breakdown of registered voters by party?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, there are 4,048,907 registered Democrats (47.93% of all voters) and 3,234,122 registered Republicans (38.28% of all voters).
Where can I find more information about my district?
You can view your district in detail at this website: www.redistricting.state.pa.us/maps/congressional.cfm