Congressional redistricting is conducted by the state legislature as a regular statute and subject to a gubernatorial veto. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is redistricted by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, which is a politician commission. The 2021 commission consisted of five members: the caucus floor leaders from both the state house and state senate, and a member appointed by the state supreme court.
Overall State Grade: C+
Improved process for state legislative redistricting: Redistricting for the General Assembly was conducted by a five-person commission, led by a nonpartisan chair appointed by the state supreme court. Advocates broadly remarked that the line-drawing process for the state senate and state house were markedly more transparent, open, and responsive than prior cycles. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) conducted various hearings where they explicitly invited advocacy groups to provide testimony, held meetings at various times with hybrid options to allow for greater participation, and ensured that transcripts and testimony were made available online. The LRC encouraged the submission of communities of interest (COI) maps, reassigned most of the prison population back to their home communities, and incorporated public testimony alongside community map submissions in its decision- making—all resulting in fairer and more representative maps.
Less transparent congressional redistricting: However, the state legislature-led redistricting of congressional lines had a markedly different process—one that advocates noted was less transparent, less responsive to public input, and ultimately required the state supreme court to step in and implement a map after an impasse between the legislature and the governor. Despite having a public comment portal, advocates noted it was unclear if any of the comments and testimony provided by the public were actually taken into consideration in the maps proposed by the state legislature, and that those proposals did little to incorporate community of interest feedback.
Strong civic engagement ecosystem: Many organizations and coalitions participated in the redistricting process in Pennsylvania, educating and driving community members to participate in providing testimony and in hearings, gathering hundreds of community maps to create unity maps, and pushing the LRC to create a more open and transparent process that ultimately resulted in more representative districts.
- Communities had greater influence in the redistricting process: Advocates all remarked that community voices, testimony, and community-drawn map submissions had a greater impact on the outcome of the state legislative maps drawn by the LRC this cycle than in past redistricting cycles. There were key priorities that were won because of advocacy work, including the partial end of prison gerrymandering and the reassignment of some of the prison population back to their home communities and pushing to include experts of color to provide testimony before the LRC. The final maps adopted by the LRC better reflected communities of interest and advocates widely remarked that the organizing and advocacy throughout this redistricting cycle made a noticeable difference in the final state legislative maps.
- Organizational and community engagement strengthened: Many advocates noted that organizations and coalitions were able to work together to advance the interest of communities on the ground, and to bring community members in and uplift their voices. The cross-pollination between groups and coalitions and focus on creating the most representative map is possible led to the creation of hundreds of COI maps, increased engagement in testimonies and public comments, and more robust public awareness of the redistricting process.
- Redistricting process must be improved: Advocates noted that more structural reforms are required to bring more transparency and public engagement for congressional redistricting, and to ensure that state legislative redistricting is not wholly dependent on who is appointed to the commission. These structural reforms may range from legislation clarifying map-drawing criteria to a constitutional amendment implementing an independent redistricting commission in the state.
- Increase transparency within the state legislative redistricting process: While the LRC process was a marked improvement from past cycles, some changes that would strengthen the process include putting in place additional transparency and public engagement procedures that would expand in areas such as language access, the diversity among testifying experts, and more public education from the LRC.
- Begin outreach and education sooner: Earlier outreach and education efforts, including tying redistricting work into the census and including redistricting in voter outreach efforts, would strengthen advocacy work in future redistricting cycles. Additionally, identifying methods to sustain the engagement of community members is critical to ensure community voices are heard throughout the redistricting process.