Proposed Pa. Congressional map boxes Kelly, Thompson out of Erie area
By Matt Knoedler and Chris Carroll -
The hometown of Congressman Mike Kelly would not be a part of the district he currently serves in Congress under a new, redrawn map of Pennsylvania's congressional districts obtained by Erie News Now late Wednesday.
Kelly, who represents Pennsylvania's 3rd Congressional District, which includes the City of Erie and much of Northwestern Pa., resides in Butler, Pa. Butler County would become a part of the 12th Congressional District in a new map obtained by Erie News Now from sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations over the redistricting process. The 12th Congressional District is currently held by Republican Keith Rothfus.
The court-ordered redistricting stems from a lawsuit led in-part by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and 18 Democratic plaintiffs (one from each of the commonwealth's 18 congressional districts) who argued the districts drawn in 2011 are a result of partisan gerrymandering to favor Republicans. The GOP holds 13 of the 18 seats while the Democrats have more than 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans do.
Living outside of the 3rd District doesn't mean Kelly would be unable to continue representing his constituency or run for re-election in the 3rd District. U.S. Representatives are permitted to live outside of their districts. Nearly two dozen lawmakers did so in 2017, according to the Washington Post. Kelly, 69, is currently in his fourth-term in office.
State lawmakers have until Friday, Feb. 9, to redraw the map per court order. They must submit it to Gov. Tom Wolf by Feb. 15 so the May 15 primary election can go on as scheduled. Sources tell Erie News Now the proposed map is "being seriously considered" by both lawmakers and the Pa. Supreme Court Justices, who will draw the map should lawmakers fail to reach an agreement. Sources say attorneys for the Pa. League of Women Voters drafted the new map, which is named the "Stack Illustrative Congressional Map" after Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.
The new 3rd Congressional District would cover all of Erie, Crawford, Warren, Venango, Mercer, Forest, Clarion, and Jefferson counties and part of McKean County. Under the current map, PA-3 splits Erie County between Kelly and Congressman Glenn Thompson's 5th Congressional District, which would cover the other part of McKean County under the new map. New districts must be divided on county lines and cannot split a county or municipality unless it's necessary to balance populations between the two districts, the Pa. Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 22.
Wednesday night, more than two weeks after the ruling, the Court provided a majority opinion, calling the 2011 map a violation of the state's constitutional guarantee that "elections shall be free and equal."
"An election corrupted by extensive, sophisticated gerrymandering and partisan dilution of votes is not 'free and equal'," said Justice Debra McCloskey Todd for the majority.
Top GOP Senate Leader Joseph Scarnati had previously refused to turnover voter records and map-making data to the Pa. Supreme Court because a formal majority opinion had not been issued. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the commonwealth's high court decision remain in effect because the challenge at hand concerned the Pa. Constitution and it was not a federal issue.
Thompson, 58, of Howard Twp., Centre County, currently represents the largest geographical district in Pennsylvania, covering 24 percent of the land mass due in large part to the Allegheny National Forest. Thompson is currently in his fifth term in office.
Mercyhurst University Director of Applied Politics, Joe Morris, told Erie News Now that Gerrymandering is nothing new and has gone on for centuries. Morris said that this latest map will be big for the state and take things back to a more traditional approach. State republicans currently hold 13 seats compared to the five held by democrats. Morris say's if the new map were to go in play, the Erie area will definitely feel the effects.
"If there is a radical redrawing of district lines, it that could have serious implications for Pennsylvania's 3rd and 5th congressional district including Erie County," said Morris.
"Traditionally we don't like to divide municipalities up into two parts if we don't have to, we should always be respectful of municipal lines,"
The proposed map could see some minor changes in the Southeastern Pa. area before it is finalized, sources say.