Ideas to redraw maps beat deadline in redistricting case

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - New proposals to redraw Pennsylvania's congressional districts rolled in Thursday in a high-stakes gerrymandering case, meeting a court-ordered deadline to submit maps of boundaries for the state Supreme Court to consider adopting for this year's election.

Submitting maps were the group of registered Democratic voters who sued successfully to invalidate the current map, plus Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Democratic lawmakers and a group of Republican activists who intervened in the case. Republican lawmakers submitted a plan last week.

Pennsylvania's congressional map is widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered. Upending it could boost Democrats nationally in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House and dramatically change the state's predominantly Republican, all-male delegation. Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters could find themselves in different districts.

Among many differences in the suggested maps are how many times the heavily populated Montgomery County is split up, which counties are packaged with the city of Reading and whether incumbent congressmen are kept in their districts.

MORE: Pa. court throws out congressional map | Gerrymandering case sows doubt for House races

Lawyers for the Democratic voters said they used no partisan data in drawing maps that produced an expected result of nine Democrats and nine Republicans, with a slight tilt toward Republicans perhaps reflecting "the small natural advantage that Republicans hold due to the clustering of Democratic voters."

Moon Duchin, a Tufts University mathematician retained by Wolf for her redistricting expertise, said in a statement that Wolf's map "falls squarely within the ensemble of similar plans created using nonpartisan criteria."

While lawmakers were careful to keep incumbent members of Congress in their districts, neither the plaintiffs nor Wolf felt any such obligation.

In one of the Democratic voters' maps, Republican Reps. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County and Ryan Costello of Chester County were bundled together. In another map, Republican Reps. Glenn Thompson of Centre County and Tom Marino of Lycoming County were tied into the same district. In Wolf's map, Thompson and Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler County are in the same district.

The Democratic voters redrew districts liberally, ignoring boundaries in the 6-year-old maps drawn by Republicans to help Republicans get elected. In one map, they split Pittsburgh. In another map, they drew the city of Reading into a district reaching north into Luzerne County, ignoring Republicans' wishes to package the Democratic city with heavily Republican Lancaster County. In his map, Wolf tied Reading into a district with Lehigh Valley cities, including Allentown.

Wolf and Democrats reduced Montgomery County to one split, instead of three splits suggested by Republican lawmakers. Meanwhile, the Democratic voters' maps substantially changed how northwestern Pennsylvania would look, connecting Erie County to rural counties east of it that currently form much of the 5th District.

Another key question in the maps is whether Democrat Conor Lamb, running in southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District left vacant by Republican Tim Murphy's resignation, would remain in the district.

The midnight deadline gives justices four more days to impose new boundaries under a timeline the divided court set to keep May's primary election on schedule.

Republican lawmakers say they will swiftly ask federal judges to block a new map, and contend that the Democratic-majority court had no power to invalidate the congressional boundaries or draw new ones.

The court will be advised by Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily, who has assisted judges drawing districts in North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Georgia and Maryland. The justices could pick a submitted map, or rely on Persily to draw one.

The court threw out Pennsylvania's 6-year-old map of congressional districts last month, saying it unconstitutionally put partisan interests above other line-drawing criteria, such as eliminating municipal and county divisions and keeping districts compact.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and governor's office after the 2010 census crafted it to elect Republicans, and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections, even though Pennsylvania's statewide elections are often closely divided and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

In drawing it, Republicans broke decades of precedent and created bizarrely shaped districts.

The revised map Republicans submitted ironed out some of the most contorted boundaries. It also kept nearly 70 percent of residents - and every congressman - in their old districts in what Republicans called an effort to minimize disruption.

However, the court gave no direction to protect incumbent lawmakers or to keep previous districts largely intact.