House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton votes in favor of Legislative Reapportionment Commission’s Preliminary Legislative Maps

HARRISBURG, Dec. 16 -- Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Phila/Delaware, released the following statement during the meeting of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission:

Today is an important day for the Commonwealth and a significant day for me personally.  When I first took the oath of office to serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2015, I could not have foreseen that I would have the opportunity to be a member of this Commission and to participate in its important work. 

I feel compelled to start these remarks by thanking you Mr. Chairman for your leadership, stewardship and guidance.  You have led us as individual Commissioners and this entire process with an objective and scholarly hand that has produced a fair and just preliminary plan. 

Your decision to marshal stakeholders from all corners of the Commonwealth with a diversity of perspectives and a wealth of knowledge provided a firm foundation upon which we as Commissioners could rely in developing this plan.  The transparency and community input driven through the multiple public hearings, leveraging participation of both Commissioners and witnesses, helped us to better understand the impacts and consequences of prior redistricting on the right of voters to equal participation in the electoral process.

Our work was challenging.  The demographics of the Commonwealth changed considerably over the past decade.  The Commonwealth’s population shifted significantly from the west to the southeast.  The number of Pennsylvanians living in urban and suburban communities grew, while rural counties declined in population.  In addition, there has been a substantial increase in the number of minority residents.  The number of Pennsylvanians who identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian or multi-racial increased by more than 800,000 since the last census, while the White population decreased by more than 540,000.  The racial composition of more than 10% of the Commonwealth’s total population changed.   

The Commissioners and the Commission staff have spent a great deal of time studying and understanding the implications of these demographic changes.  I was particularly impressed with the testimony of the citizens and experts who appeared before the Commission and shared their perspectives on what a fair and representative map should look like.  And I very much appreciated the guidance we received from the experts concerning the constitutional and other factors that must be balanced to fulfill the Commission’s mandate of “reapportioning the Commonwealth” and ensure that Commonwealth elections will be “free and equal.”   

Inspired by this work and the citizens behind the statistics, it is my honor to vote today in favor of the preliminary plan presented by the Chair.

First, I believe the House map fairly accounts for the dramatic demographic changes in the population of the Commonwealth since the last reapportionment.  The plan recognizes and accounts for the population declines in the west and the population growth in the southeast by creating three new House districts in Philadelphia, Lancaster and Montgomery Counties.  The plan respects communities of interest throughout the state.  It also comports with the Voting Rights Act which requires that communities of color must have the same opportunity as other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.  And, not insignificantly, as a result of the historic vote by the Commission to reallocate incarcerated individuals to their home communities, the plan eliminates the representational inequities that result when incarcerated persons are counted where they are incarcerated rather than at their homes.    

Second, the preliminary House map is representative of the Commonwealth as it is today and allows for equal participation in the electoral process.  Our Commonwealth has a long history of protecting the right of the people to fair and equal representation in state government.  The Pennsylvania Constitution—considered the most democratic of its time when the first state constitution was ratified in 1776—sought to secure access to the electoral process for all people and to ensure that this right of the people would forever remain equal.  Since 1790, Article 1, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution has mandated that “[e]lections shall be free and equal.”  The Constitution thus guarantees that all voters shall have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation.  Decades of gerrymandering in previous reapportionment cycles resulted in districts and election outcomes that were not fairly representative of Pennsylvania voters.  The preliminary plan that is presented today substantially corrects these wrongs through faithful adherence to the requirements in the Pennsylvania Constitution.  The proposed House map consists of 203 compact and contiguous representative districts that are as nearly equal in population as practicable and the map also satisfies the “free and equal” mandate in the Pennsylvania Constitution.    

Third, the preliminary plan is the product of an inclusive process, robust debate and expert collaboration.  The Chair has invited participation by diverse voices and has solicited expert guidance and instruction, including from the Commission’s Chief Counsel, the Honorable Robert L. Byer, and other nationally known experts who appeared and presented testimony at the public hearings and otherwise assisted the Commission.  The combination of these many different voices resulted in a representative and fair map.   

For these reasons, I will vote in favor of the preliminary plan.