My Journey into Redistricting: Part 2/2


The Next Four Months:

At this point I believe my family was a little tired of hearing me talk about redistricting. I began talking with some others to see what they thought of the maps. These helpful souls showed me a missing piece of the Redistricting puzzle – the laws handed down through Court rulings.

Not knowing the specifics of the judicial decision, I tried to match the variants used in my state’s 2000 redistricting plan and see if I could do it with less splits. At each level, I found it possible to significantly reduce the number of splits, but was still not real happy with the new result.

By this time we are heading out of March and into April. The 2010 census numbers have been unveiled and I am trying to crack the code (so to speak) of where on earth they’ve buried the township numbers in their online system and trying to find a painless way to download them.

It took an enormous amount of perseverance (and even a few yells at the computer) to unearth the necessary data. Now I have an army of spreadsheets and lots of county maps. Time for a map update.

Returning to the maps I’d made, I plugged in the new apportionment numbers to see if they’d still had up correctly. They did not. Going back to the drawing board, I repeated the early process of trial and error until the numbers all came out right again.

Some time in all of the hunting and digging, I learned more about my missing puzzle piece. It turns out that the historic definitions of equal population were no longer valid. In the 1960s came several landmark cases that resulted in the revision of state constitutions across the country. They said that 10% variant is all that is allowed in making districts as long as it is used to preserve political subdivisions.

Well that fit right in with our constitution and my quest, so I eagerly seized this piece of data and applied it to the maps. It really helped because the variant used by my state in 2000 was so small it forced quite a few unnecessary splits. The maps looked much better, now – more unified and without all those ugly divisions.

Armed with this new definition, I also went beyond just county groups to the Ward and Voting Precinct. Each step of the way proved that my state could do a much better job adhering to the constitutional rule about preserving political subdivisions.

The Final Discovery:

The end of May was fast approaching when I learned that there was yet another key piece of information that was required – there was yet another rule to include: the Voting Rights Act (VRA). I can go into more detail elsewhere about this, but sufficed to say it meant that racial considerations was a valid reason for breaking up political subdivisions (provided it did not go too far).

In my state, the presence of minorities is somewhat limited so does not have the huge impact it does in some states. But it does have a bearing on every level of Pennsylvania districts. For the Congressional and State Senate districts, Philadelphia has a sufficiently large minority presence.  For State House Districts, it expands to also include Delaware County and the Cities of Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Reading.

Creating these did not require recreating maps from scratch. It did require some adjustments (particularly in the State House districts).

The Congressional Difference:

As I prepared to testify at the congressional public hearing, I learned that Pennsylvania was plagued by problems in creating Congressional districts in 2000. In fact, as late as 2004, they were still battling out in courts.

The result of this turmoil meant that concrete numbers were hard to come by. Also, they were not under the constitutional rule regarding no splits. Equal population is defined by a much narrower view in Congressional districts.

I’m still not sure if the congressional map I produced really met their stricter ideas. It was 611 people different between the largest and smallest district. Is that close enough? It seem like it is to me. But then I find this narrow view to be confining and perhaps harmful to good representation (for instance, those 3000 voters I think would much rather be in a large different with less representation per person than cut off all on their own).

It was as close as one of Pennsylvania’s two Congressional plans from 2000, but I’m not sure if it is the one that survived the 2004 court battle.

The Journey Continues:

As the Commission and State Government committee start work on their maps, I will certainly be keeping a close eye on things. This should be easier this time around because each group has promised greater transparency and better communication with the public.

Do you have a story about how your districts affect you? Are you in a district that gives you good representation? Or does it suffer from political subdivision splits? I’d love to hear your story!

Miss the beginning? Catch it at Part 1.

Previous articleMy Journey into Redistricting: Part 1/2
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Amanda began delving into the subject of redistricting in October of 2010 on her quest to know why. Helped by a love of puzzles, attention to detail, and a great deal of persistence, her efforts eventually led her to a historic victory before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She documents her journey at, inspiring others through numerous presentations across the state. The recipient of several honors, her work has also been featured in every major Pennsylvania newspaper, making headline news in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.


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