Legislature should move forward with redistricting process

HARRISBURG, Feb. 24 – A joint hearing of the House and Senate State Government committees today showed how the legislature can move forward with redistricting and reapportionment now despite the delayed delivery of census data and in time for the 2022 election, according to House State Government Committee Democratic Chair Margo Davidson, D-Delaware.

“Between having to overcome a once-in-a-century pandemic and a former president who seemed intent to stop counting before every person was accurately counted and represented, the census results will be delayed,” Davidson said. “But as our government has found ways to meet and legislate on behalf of the people we represent in quarantine and otherwise, we too can and should start the redistricting and reapportionment process now in order to ensure another free, fair and accurate election in 2022.”

Earlier this month, Census Bureau officials said they plan to release redistricting data to states by Sept. 30 due to delays caused by the pandemic, five months later than originally planned. Because states must use this data to draw district boundaries based on changing demographics, legislatures across the nation have been put in positions where final maps might not be in place in time for the 2022 primary election.

Davidson said testimony received at today’s hearing convinced her and the House Democratic Caucus that the legislature can proceed in its normal process as they wait for the final population data to come in. She said lawmakers should not have to scramble to do everything at the last minute, like naming the commission. She said at this time 10 years ago, the legislature had already certified its members of the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission and scheduled its public hearings.

“We need to name and certify our commission members, we need to name a chair, we need to get the reapportionment website up and running and we need to start setting our public input hearings right now,” Davidson said. “This process could and should have started earlier this month. There is no reason to delay and no time to lose.”

Wendy Underhill, director of the Elections and Redistricting Program with the National Conference of State Legislatures, told the committee while answering a question from Davidson that some part of the process could be started despite the delay in certified data, such as naming the commission. Underhill also said some states are using other available data to draw preliminary maps.

Davidson said the testifiers also noted that drawing preliminary maps could shorten the period to present maps to the public to as few as 30 days, still giving them 30 days to respond, which based on previous reapportionment commission timelines would place them right around the time the final census reports are expected to be completed and sent to states.  

“We can’t change the reality of when the final census data is provided, but we do have the power to change any inaction on our part,” Davidson said. “A formed commission could decide if preliminary maps could be drawn from available data. We should move forward with that.”

Davidson said she and Democratic leaders are open to Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman’s suggestion to move the 2022 primary to accommodate the delayed results and give the commission more time to finalize the state’s maps. But that should not stop the process from moving forward as it can since preliminary data is available, she said.

“The census has been completed, and it’s time to turn to the people’s work and see that census data is applied in a fair, transparent way toward the redistricting process - a process vital to ensuring that people are proportionately, democratically represented by their legislators in Congress and in the state legislature,” Davidson said. “It’s on us as legislators to do this redistricting process fairly and on time, where districts are compact and voters get to pick their lawmakers, not the other way around, as has happened in the past. We must deliver on our duty to the people, to history and the constitution.”

In addition to Underhill, testimony from today’s hearing came from James Whitehorne, chief, Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office/ADDC/HQ, U.S. Census Bureau; Brent McClintock, executive director, Legislative Data Processing Center; and Jennifer Shultz, data services manager, and Tim Schock, data analyst, Pennsylvania State Data Center. Written testimony can be found on the House State Government Committee page at www.legis.state.pa.us

As Democratic chair of the committee, Davidson leads House Democrats in working each day to ensure ballot access to all Pennsylvanians and to uncover the reality behind partisan and power-grabbing legislation being proposed by the majority.