These maps are NOT official proposals. They are FDPA submissions to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which alone is responsible for final PA House and Senate maps. This FAQ is to answer questions about our proposed maps and the values and process that shaped them.
FDPA supporters worked for over five years to have an independent citizens redistricting commission in place in time to draw maps for the next decade. Legislative leaders ensured that didn’t happen, but citizens still want a say in drawing and reviewing maps and want to understand the process better. The People’s Maps provided time to discuss maps, review districts and share ideas. The maps will also demonstrate what is possible, in terms of metrics and community-centered districts, as the Legislative Reapportionment Commission completes its work.
The genesis of the maps was in the LACRA mapping competition, held from June 26 to July 14. Submitted maps demonstrated potential metrics and ways to map specific areas of PA. Discussions with mapping experts in the judging process clarified the challenge of holding values in tension. After release of Census Bureau data on August 18, two winning mappers were invited to update their maps with the 2020 data. Aspects of other winning maps were then incorporated into those maps and they became the basis for discussion, revision and subsequent drafts. Michael Skros, a student at Millersville University, led off the work on his winning House map. Michael Waxenberg, an IT risk management specialist from Pike County, led the way with his winning Senate map. Other members of the mapping team included Ruth Yeiser of Montgomery County and Debbie Trudeau of Centre County, mapping potential solutions to region specific questions. Karen Calhoun, a retired librarian from Westmoreland, curated testimony with help from Susan Fudurich of Beaver County. More than 30 local coordinators helped arrange community mapping conversations and offered regular feedback as drafts were developed.
One goal of the People’s maps was to demonstrate the values proposed in LACRA, the Legislative and Congressional Redistricting Act. LACRA affirms values already in the PA constitution while proposing specific standards and adding attention to other values of importance:
Compactness is required by the PA constitution. Dave’s Redistricting App (DRA) provides a composited score, but also supplies scores for the most common assessments (Reock and Polsby Popper as well as KIWYSI) for the entire maps as well as for individual districts. The current PA House and Senate score in the 40s. LACRA competition maps and PA People’s maps have been consistently in the 60s.
Contiguity is also a constitutional requirement but also a challenge, as some of PA’s cities and municipalities are not contiguous. If you look closely at our maps, you may see a few census blocks that appear non-contiguous. In reality, these are block with a population of zero, stray bits of land that are not contiguous to the townships that own them and do not need to be considered in the drawing of district maps.
The PA Constitution say “Unless absolutely necessary no county, city, incorporated town, borough, township or ward shall be divided in forming either a senatorial or representative district.” LACRA puts a numeric boundary on splits to counties, proposing that no county be split more than numerically necessary plus one for Senate districts, plus two for House districts. The People’s Maps demonstrate that the requirement for House districts could be tightened to match that of the Senate: no district was split for House districts more than numerically necessary plus one.
FDPA mappers also attempted to split as few municipalities as possible, and took that further with attention to school districts, using the same guideline of splitting no more than mathematically necessary plus one.
FDPA mappers met the current number of majority-minority senate districts (five) and surpassed that for the house, with 28 majority-minority districts. Attention was also given to influence and opportunity districts, districts that allow smaller numbers of racial or language minority voters a significant voice. Pennsylvania Voice unity maps aided in that effort, as well as feedback from racial minority leaders to ensure district lines protected growing populations within those districts.
Pennsylvania has a level of built-in partisan bias. Efforts to minimize municipal splits and to maximize representation for minority communities can exaggerate that bias in ways that provide anti-majoritarian outcomes. While mappers paid attention to bias scores, that metric was held in tension with other values. The outcome is that the People’s Maps should show far less distance between votes cast and seats won than recent PA legislative maps. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has provided more information about partisan fairness and bias metrics.
Work on this included minimizing splits to school districts, incorporating community of interest maps from over 700 Pennsylvanians as part of the Unity Map project, and inclusion of suggestions from testimony, feedback and community mapping conversations.
Partisan bias tests give some indication of responsiveness, but so do predictors of potential results in different kinds of elections. By all indicators available, the Peoples’ Maps would be far more responsive to voters than current legislative maps.
Frequently expressed concerns from voters point to the difficulty of full participation when geographic barriers divide districts and undermine attempts to organize, campaign or hold legislators accountable. Guidelines to address this incorporated testimony, feedback, and information gathered from the past four years of more than 1000 public meetings.
Another provision in the LACRA bills outlaws plans designed to protect incumbents. Given the large population shifts in the past decade, any attempt to keep all incumbents in their current districts would result in badly-distorted districts. The House map was drawn with no attention to incumbent locations or cores of our current already distorted districts. The only attention to incumbent location in the Senate map was an attempt to address the challenge of the four-year election cycle. Since districts were drawn without respect to incumbents, in some cases several incumbents will be in the same district. In other cases, districts will have no incumbents. This does not reflect preference or opposition to any individual legislator, rather a refusal to choose among incumbents or to draw districts that prefer or oppose any individual legislator.
It’s essential that district maps reflect the communities that they will represent. Fair Districts PA is part of the League of Women Voters People-Powered Fair Maps initiative. Scholars and mappers across the county are adamant: there is no algorithm that can replace the input of local voices when district maps are drawn. This is especially true in a state like Pennsylvania, where geography has a strong impact on ability to participate, and where trust in the mapping process has been undermined by decades of districts that do not reflect the voices and values of voters.
The People’s maps are far more compact, have far fewer split counties and municipalities, and far better responsiveness metrics. They are far more reflective of voters’ wishes regarding geographic boundaries and communities of interest, and do a far better job of keeping school districts intact. They also provide greater opportunity for racial and language minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
Timeline On October 25, the LRC certified the US Census data sets as usable. That data will be provided to various redistricting mapping websites and it is anticipated these sites will have the adjusted data within several days for use by the general public to submit suggested maps to the LRC. The LRC will have 90 days to produce a preliminary map. At the October 25 meeting, Chair Nordenberg remarked they plan to finish a preliminary plan much sooner.
Look closely at the maps and offer your feedback. Are college campuses divided? Are there ways to fix split municipalities? Tell us what we’ve missed. Large adjustments will be difficult at this point in the process, but we’d still like to know what you think. Share your thoughts with the LRC. If you like the way FDPA mappers mapped your own community, take a screenshot, share it with the LRC, and tell them what you like.
PA Specific Guidelines:
Our allies at Draw the Lines have run several years worth of mapping competitions for Congressional districts and took the lead in creating the Pennsylvania Citizen’s Map. With two maps and 253 districts to draw, Fair Districts PA volunteers were happy to have Draw the Lines take the lead on the Congressional effort and encourage you to review their map, read their story and share your thoughts about that map on the Draw the Lines website.
There are numerous municipalities in PA that are not contiguous. In balancing constitutional requirements of contiguity and minimizing splits to cities and municipalities, mappers considered the requirement of contiguity first, except in instances of non-contiguous census blocks with zero population.
While mappers tried to avoid splitting school districts and municipalities, in some cases the necessities of population equivalence forced splits, noted on the maps. In places where school districts cross county lines, the county line was given priority, since minimizing splits to counties is in the PA constitution, while school districts are not mentioned. In places where school districts split precincts, precincts were given priority.
In areas with historic under-representation of specific Black and Brown communities, districts were drawn to maximize opportunities for those underrepresented populations. This was done with attention to potential coalitions where smaller minority populations would be able to leverage influence toward candidates of their choice. No districts were drawn to meet specific Voting Rights Act numeric requirements, since citizen voting age population data is not available in public mapping technology and the Gingles v Thornburgh legal framework is beyond the scope of this mapping effort.
In counties where more than 100 participants submitted maps, draft districts were created incorporating that input, then finalized by a vote with community members. Specific unity districts are 26, 27 and 37 in Pittsburgh, 82 in York, 188 in Lancaster, 123 and 124 in Reading and 190 in Philadelphia. Several of the districts were amended slightly to address precinct splits and balance populations in surrounding districts, but otherwise were used as approved by local community groups. While these districts might not look compact, this is not gerrymandering. Historic housing patterns, including red-lining and gentrification, have pushed Black and Brown communities to the edges in some of PA’s urban areas. Better representation for those communities is a high value that took precedence over compactness or municipal splits.
Since PA state senators are elected every four years, with even districts elected in 2022 and odd in 2024, districts were numbered in an attempt to reflect that reality. Maps were drawn without precise attention to legislators’ residences, so some numbers may need to be adjusted.
Our volunteers have listened to all oral testimony present at government redistricting hearings held so far, they have read all available submitted written testimony and created a data sheet collating key comments from citizens of PA. You can review that material here.