Pennsylvania Voters Committed to Free and Equal Elections Submit Proposed Congressional District Plan
The voters are represented by the Public Interest Law Center, the firm that led a successful 2018 state constitutional challenge to Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered 2011 congressional map; Dechert LLP; and Common Cause.
Today, a group of Pennsylvania voters who are deeply committed to free and equal elections have weighed in on congressional redistricting for the Commonwealth. They submitted a proposed plan as part of an amicus brief and expert report filed in two consolidated cases – Carter v. Chapman and Gressman v. Chapman—which ask that the state courts adopt a congressional redistricting plan to be activated in time for the May 2022 primary elections.
Their proposed congressional plan (the “Ali Plan”) builds on Governor Wolf’s recently announced plan, proposing two modifications: (1) the use of prison-adjusted population data, which is a step already taken by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission in connection with the redrawing of state senate and house districts, and (2) adjustments to communities of interest to ensure the integrity of those communities, specifically in the Pittsburgh area, the Capital Region, and the Philadelphia area.
The fair election and voters’ rights activists include, among others, individual members and leaders from Common Cause PA, the League of Women Voters Pennsylvania, and advocates from Fair Districts PA. They are represented by the Public Interest Law Center, pro bono counsel from Dechert LLP, and Common Cause. In 2018, the Law Center represented the League of Women Voters and 18 Pennsylvania voters from each district in a case that successfully enjoined the 2011 congressional map as a partisan gerrymander that violated Pennsylvania’s state constitution.
“These community-drawn maps are proof that we can draw district lines that prioritize the needs of the communities ahead of candidates, incumbents, or political parties,” said Khalif Ali, Common Cause Pennsylvania Executive Director and one of the voters submitting the proposed plan. “It’s important that every level of Pennsylvania government is accountable to and representative of the people—and that starts with fair redistricting. We look forward to securing fair maps that give voice to every community in Pennsylvania, regardless of race, incarceration status, political affiliation, or ZIP code.”
The Ali Plan moves Pennsylvania past prison gerrymandering, counting incarcerated individuals at their home addresses and not in their cells. At the same time the Ali Plan seeks to preserve communities of interest while adhering to neutral and non-partisan principals; without seeking unfair advantages for parties or incumbents.
“Our clients are Pennsylvania voters who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to free and equal elections,” said Mimi McKenzie, legal director of the Public Interest Law Center. “They come from across the Commonwealth, belong to different parties, and have all advocated in their communities for better redistricting for Pennsylvania. None is a politician. They want to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation.”
On December 31, 2021, the same group of Pennsylvania voters filed an application to intervene in the two consolidated cases. In the application to intervene, they sought to ensure a transparent process for redistricting that allowed for public input, and to advocate for a map that satisfies the criteria of fair, unbiased district representation.
The Commonwealth Court denied their application to intervene. The voters have appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, filing a brief in support of their appeal today at noon. Along with other denied interveners, the Commonwealth Court invited the voters to submit a proposed plan as amici.
The Pennsylvania redistricting process currently appears to be at an impasse, with little prospect of the General Assembly and the Governor agreeing on a new congressional plan in time to be used in the May 17 primary. The Commonwealth Court has indicated that, in the event that the General Assembly and the Governor fail to reach agreement by January 30, the court will select a congressional redistricting plan from those submitted by parties and amici in the two consolidated cases. A hearing to consider the proposed plans will be held in Harrisburg on Thursday, January 27 and Friday, January 28.
“The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees “free and equal” elections,” staff attorney Ben Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center said. “With an impasse in Harrisburg over our Commonwealth’s congressional districts, it falls to the courts to ensure voters will be able to elect representatives using fair district lines.”