With their efforts to rewrite the state’s voting laws now dead in the water, House Republicans are shifting their focus to congressional redistricting as the deadline for drawing the state’s congressional maps gets closer.
GOP lawmakers announced Monday that they will hold a series of public hearings throughout the summer to gather public input on how the state’s congressional maps should be drawn. Redistricting efforts will be guided by legislation sponsored by state Rep. Wendi Thomas, which outlines a public participation process.
The group of lawmakers, which included Thomas, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff and House State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, said the hearings would make the upcoming map-drawing process the most transparent in state history.
“The coming many slate of hearings … the publicly accessible website and the ability for Pennsylvanians to submit their own maps and communities of interest clearly makes this effort the most transparent congressional redistricting process in Pennsylvania's history, and we're glad to be part of that,” Benninghoff said.
Two back-to-back hearings will be held on Thursday, July 22, beginning at 9 a.m. The first hearing is designed to provide a public overview of the redistricting process, while the second hearing will offer an opportunity for lawmakers to receive stakeholder input.
A series of regional hearings will then be held around the state beginning in August and ending in October.
The House Republican Caucus also rolled out a redistricting website which includes the public hearing schedule. The site will also allow members of the public to draw their local communities and offer public comments on the map-making process.
Grove, who recently spearheaded an effort to rewrite the state’s election laws, said improvements in technology will allow the public to be more involved in the redistricting process than ever before. “Without a doubt, technology has allowed the General Assembly to provide the greatest level of public participation in the congressional redistricting process,” he said.
Grove added that lawmakers are hoping to have the congressional maps drawn and submitted to the governor in December, before candidates begin circulating petitions for congressional races.
The public hearings outlined by GOP lawmakers on Friday mirror a process outlined in House Bill 22, sponsored by Thomas. The legislation, if enacted, would establish a public input process, while also setting guidelines for how districts can and can’t be drawn. Under the bill, maps may not “dilute or diminish” the ability of minority communities to participate in elections, and lawmakers would be discouraged from drawing maps that break up communities or don’t conform to an area’s physical characteristics.
Legislators would also be prohibited from drawing maps designed to benefit candidates for elected office under HB 22.
Unlike state legislative maps, which are drawn every 10 years by a commission made up of four legislative leaders and a fifth member, Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are drawn by lawmakers and signed into law by the governor.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s congressional maps, ruling that the districts were unconstitutionally drawn for partisan gain. The court then stepped in and provided its own remedial maps.