Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Gerrymandered Districts of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has its primary elections this Tuesday, so I thought it would be a great time to look at how badly gerrymandered Southeastern Pennsylvania is.

No district in PA can really outdo PA's 7th district, whose seat is held by Republican Pat Meehan.

PA's 7th district includes most of Delaware County and then parts of Montgomery, Chester, Berks, and Lancaster. It stretches the bounds of what "contiguous" means. And it just completely ignores the redistricting principle of "compactness."

It didn't always look this messed-up. Here's what it looked like in the last decade.

Even with the odd appendage in Montgomery County, it was still fairly compact and contiguous.
However, the PA-07 of the 2000s had a slight Democratic lean. It was Joe Sestak's former district. The Republicans succeeded at cobbling together an area between Philadelphia and Lancaster that would be more favorable to Republicans. It went from D+3 to EVEN in its partisan rating.

(Interestingly, even though it still has an EVEN partisan rating, DCCC recruitment seems to be woefully lacking, a complete failure of Steve Israel's leadership.)

The zig-zags of PA-07 in Montgomery County have an inevitable impact on the district adjacent to it: Allyson Schwartz's PA-13, which has a heavily contested primary coming up.

Another strange creature is PA-06 (retiring Republican Jim Gerlach), which contains parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks, and Lebanon counties. If you notice, you can see how Reading is encircled by PA-06 but left outside of it.

That would have meant too many Democrats for PA-06, so it was tossed into the 16th district. The 16th district contains a large portion of southern Chester County, most of Lancaster County, and a sliver of Berks County (Reading).

Compared to these, PA-08, the district where I spent my adolescence, is contiguous and compact.

However, that does not mean that the Republicans didn't reshape it to their advantage. PA-08 has consistently been the district of Bucks County. However, Republicans cut out some of Northeast Philadelphia that used to be in the district and replaced it with parts of northern Montgomery County taken out of PA-13. And those areas added to the district are both more conservative than Northeast Philly and Bucks itself. In 2012, Obama won Bucks County 50.0% - 48.8%. However, he narrowly lost PA-08 49.4% - 49.3%. Nothing drastic, but a subtle shift that can still reap returns.

During my time in the Philadelphia area, I lived in two other districts: Bob Brady's PA-01 and Chaka Fattah's PA-02.

Here's PA-01, which snakes along the Delaware River, incorporating a large chunk of Philadelphia as well as parts of Delaware and Chester Counties.

PA-01 has a lot of wasted votes. Bob Brady won with 84.9% of the vote back in 2012. Obama won with 82.3% of the vote.

Amusingly, I didn't even realize that I had been redistricted from PA-02 to PA-01 until Election Day 2012. I was completely taken by surprise by all of the Bob Brady signs at the polling location, since I thought that Chaka Fattah was still my representative.

Here's PA-02, Chaka Fattah's district.

As far as PA districts go, it's reasonably compact and contiguous. However, it's designed to keep all of the Democrats out of the surrounding districts. There are a lot of wasted votes in PA-02. Chaka Fattah won in 2012 with 89.3% of the vote, and Obama won with 90.4% of the vote.

The Republicans in the state legislature moved things around to take Democrats out of PA-06 and move them into PA-02. You can see that in the land swap below. The newly added territory on the right was almost all formerly PA-6.

All of this just serves as a great testament to why redistricting needs to be taken outside of partisan control.

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