Grove to lead hearings to make redistricting process more open

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
As chair of the State Government Committee, Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) will serve as the gatekeeper for all proposed election changes in the House.

State Rep. Seth Grove later this month will begin overseeing hearings on the state's congressional redistricting process after years of interparty battles over how to draw new district lines.

The Dover Township Republican, speaking alongside Republican colleagues at a Monday news conference in Bucks County, said the 10 House State Government Committee hearings will provide for the most transparent redistricting process in the state's history.

“Government should be transparent, and that starts with how district maps are drawn,” said Grove, who chairs the committee.

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The hearings will come as Pennsylvania is set to lose one of its 18 congressional districts following the 2020 U.S. Census.

They take place three years after the state Supreme Court declared the former congressional map unconstitutionally gerrymandered, prompting the high court to create its own map.

The committee will hold its first hearing on July 22 at the Capitol. Members will then travel the state to hold regional hearings. The southcentral region is set to have a hearing on Oct. 13.

In addition to the hearings, the public will be able to submit input online about the current map and the upcoming congressional map  for the first time at http://paredistricting.com/.

“Without a doubt, technology has allowed the General Assembly to provide the greatest level of public participation in the congressional redistricting process,” Grove said.

The website also will allow residents to draw their own maps once the committee receives more granular census data, which Grove said is expected to come in mid-August.

Gov. Tom Wolf's office did not respond to requests for comment.

But state Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, who serves as the minority chair of the committee, lauded the idea of increasing public input.

"It’s nice to finally see the majority party make an effort to listen to the people on such an important issue," Davidson said. "I hope Pennsylvanians fill up the chairman’s inbox to remind him that our districts must be compact and keep communities together."

Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, an organization that advocates for the drawing of fair maps, also said the hearings will be very beneficial in the redistricting process.

Kuniholm pointed to the state's congressional redistricting process in 2011. At that time, there was a Republican governor and a GOP-dominated Legislature. 

The process moved so quickly that there was inadequate time for public feedback and lawmaker input, she said.

Now, however, with a Democratic governor, a Republican-led Legislature and additional hearings, there are checks and balances that will provide for a a much better outcome, Kuniholm said.

“We are happy they are recognizing the need for public input,” Kuniholm said. “I’m very optimistic we will get a better map this time around.”

The hearings are based on legislation by state Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Bucks, which was referred to the State Government Committee in February but has yet to be voted on.

That bill also calls for statewide hearings and a website to garner public input.

“This new process will prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering and promote accountability,” Thomas said Monday.

The upcoming hearings come on top of a string of hearings held by Grove on election reform. In total, the House State Government Committee has held 16 hearings this year, he said.

Unlike redistricting for state Legislature seats, which is done through a commission, congressional redistricting requires that new maps go through the General Assembly and be signed by the governor.

In 2018, the state Legislature failed to pass legislation to create an independent redistricting commission after Senate Republicans proposed an amendment to have appellate judges be elected from regional districts.

Democrats and activists called the amendment a poison pill that effectively killed the legislation's chance of passing,

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.