This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA as part of a yearlong reporting project focused on redistricting and gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. It is made possible by the support of Spotlight PA members and Votebeat, a project focused on election integrity and voting access.

By Kate Huangpu of Spotlight PA

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has selected a new congressional map that closely resembles the current one, with Democrats and Republicans each expected to win roughly half of the state’s 17 districts.

In an order released Wednesday, the high court picked a proposal submitted by the Carter petitioners, a group of Pennsylvania voters who brought a lawsuit asking the state courts to take over congressional redistricting.

The state Supreme Court agreed to assume control of the highly consequential process in early February, just weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a map sent to him by Republicans.

The five-page order does not explain the Democrat-controlled court’s reasoning. It notes that Justice Debra Todd, a Democrat, and the court’s two Republicans — Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Kevin Brobson — dissented to the selection of the Carter plan.

The state Supreme Court also announced Wednesday it will not move the date of the May 17 primary, opting instead to adjust some of the earlier deadlines for candidates.

Pennsylvania must redraw its congressional boundaries every 10 years to account for population changes identified by the census. Because of sluggish growth, the state lost one of its 18 seats, raising the stakes in what is already an intensely political process.

The Republican-controlled legislature sent Wolf a map initially drawn by Amanda Holt, a noted redistricting advocate and former Lehigh County commissioner, that nonpartisan analysis showed had a Republican bias. Wolf vetoed the map for its partisan lean, calling it “highly skewed.”

The ‘least change’ approach

In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the map approved by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011, finding it to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

After Wolf and the legislature failed to agree on a replacement, the court put in place a map that is split evenly between nine Democrats and nine Republicans.

The Carter map is as similar as possible to the current congressional map, with nearly 90% of residents staying in the same district. Attorney Matthew Gorden told the court last Friday that this approach of “least change” should be valued over other considerations.

Gorden said the map was guided by that principle and not motivated by partisan intentions.

“We don’t have visibility into why most of the other maps ended up where they did,” he said. “We do for the Carter map.”

Jonathan Rodden, a political science professor at Stanford University who drew the map, said in an expert report that his plan produces eight districts “where Democrats are expected to win,” another eight “where Republicans are quite likely to win,” and one district “that is a toss-up with a very slight Democratic lean.”

“This level of partisan balance and competitiveness is similar to that of the existing plan, reflective of Pennsylvania’s statewide partisan preferences, and consistent with changes in population as they relate to partisanship,” Rodden wrote.

This story will be updated.

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