2018 looks like it's shaping up to be a great year for Democrats — specifically when it comes to this year's midterm elections. Despite not holding the majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, the Democrats could take over one (or both) come November 2018. And one seemingly small and unnoticeable ruling related to Pennsylvania's voting laws could have a large impact in doing just that. On Feb. 5, the highest court in the state ordered district lines in Pennsylvania to be redrawn because of gerrymandering — but what exactly is gerrymandering?
On Feb. 5 the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to block a Jan. 22 ruling that came from Pennsylvania's Supreme Court which ordered lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional map, after the Pennsylvania court decided that the state was "gerrymandering" their map. This issue made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday definitively decided that Pennsylvania would have to redraw this map to more accurately display their population. Legislators have until Feb. 15, or a little under two weeks, to redraw the map and have it approved by the state's governor.
What do you need to know about gerrymandering?
Yes, it's a ridiculously strange word. But its definition and this ruling could lay the groundwork for a path to a potential shift change in Congress. According to Dictionary.com, the official definition of gerrymandering (according to U.S. politics) is as follows,
the dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.
Essentially, gerrymandering an electoral map means drawing the divisions so that the map ends up favoring one party over the other.
So why is gerrymandering important? Well, Pennsylvania is a good example.
Democrats from the state alleged that the current map does not accurately depict the state's voting base, which directly violates the state's constitution. A new map that more accurately reflects Pennsylvania's electorate would mean legislative races that were previously an easy win for Republicans would, theoretically, become a lot more competitive. And in turn, there might be a ton of seats where Democrats could score a victory. Essentially, redrawing this map could mean that the state's current 18 districts might be more evenly split, and may give the Democrats a stronger hand come election time.
In fact, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that the current map "clearly, plainly and palpably” violates the state's constitution — so yeah, this is kind of a big deal.
Here is what the current congressional map of Pennsylvania looks like.
Looks very, very noticeably red right?
However, despite the map leaning heavily Republican, registered Democrats actually outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania. As of November 2017, according to Pennsylvania's Department of State, there are around 4 million registered Democrats and just about 3.2 million registered Republicans in the state. So in theory, a fair map would lean towards Democrats — not Republicans. A press release from Pennsylvania State Senate Democrats released on Jan. 23 stated,
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map. In the Democratic-controlled court’s decision, the majority said the boundaries 'clearly, plainly and palpably' violate the state’s constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.
With a new map, Pennsylvania might be on the cusp of starting a party shift in the Republican-controlled Congress. Anything is possible, right?