State officials discuss impact of electoral district reshuffle in Chester County

Last week State Representative Kristine Howard, D-167th, of Malvern announced her intention to run for re-election in the State House of Representatives, where she has served since 2018, noting her past approvals by leading state environmental organizations, women’s organizations supporting reproductive and equal rights, labor unions, educators, healthcare professionals, animal welfare groups and more .

In an email advocating for the election of a Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives, Howard referred to what might happen in the future given the redistribution process currently underway. “If the redistribution is right, I think there is a great opportunity for the state ship to change course,” she said.

The question remains, however, whether Howard’s current district will survive this process of legislative redistribution and whether the place she now calls her home will be part of a district that resembles the one she now represents.

Howard is not alone. Observers say that redrawing the maps of state and federal legislative districts could result in huge changes to the boundaries of those districts, so that what is now the 167th Legislative District – which stretches from crowded suburbs to Exton to the hilly equestrian landscape of Willistown – may be very different in May 2022.

“There will certainly be changes” in the legislative map when the effort to redistribute the 203 seats in the House and 50 seats in the state Senate is completed early next year, said Carol Kuniholm, president. of the independent organization Fair Districts PA, which advocates apolitical, non-partisan redistribution across the state. “Chester County in particular is going to change” because of its relative population growth over the past 10 years.

Kuniholm said that due to the contribution of political parties and incumbents in the redistribution process, attention to the place of incumbents in the new cards could be considerable – although, in his organization’s view, “This is just a bad practice.

“It is likely that most lawmakers will stay in their districts,” she said in an interview last week, not to speak directly about Howard’s situation. “But there is no guarantee that they will. None of this is guaranteed. They could end up in a radically new neighborhood. She added, further, that although being a priority in the behind the scenes in Harrisburg, incumbent protection may not be as strong as it once was.

Earlier this month, Fair District PA released copies of its “People’s Maps” of the state’s House and Senate districts which it submitted to the State Legislative Redistribution Commission, l he body which will submit the proposed redistribution maps to the General Assembly in December, it is estimated. For Chester County, these maps are decidedly different from those for current districts.

At the State House level, the county currently has nine seats – the 13th, 26th, 74th, 155th, 156th, 157th, 158th, 160th and Howard’s 167th. Three of them – the 13th, 157th, and 168 – cross county borders in Delaware, Lancaster, and Montgomery counties. Kuniholm said one of the goals of his organization in drawing suggested maps is to keep as many districts as possible entirely in one county, so as not to break the continuity. The majority of seats are currently held by Democrats like Howard – a sea change in county politics.

At the state Senate level, there are three districts – the 9th, 19th, and 44th, all held by Democrats. Two of them – the 9th and 44th – cross county borders.

In the People’s Maps of Fair District PA, Harrisburg’s number of seats in the county remains the same – nine in the House and three in the Senate – but the individual boundaries as well as the designation of the districts themselves are different.

Its map shows the district numbers not in the current county legislative caucus – the 119th, 148th, 149th, 150th, 151st, 152nd, and 153rd, in addition to the 155th and 156th in the House, and the 36th, 37th, and 39th in the Senate. The boundaries are also different, although they correspond geographically to what is today – neighborhoods centered in West Chester, Exton, Coatesville, Kennett Square, Chester Springs, etc.

But one change made by Fair Districts was to combine parts of Howard District with outgoing State Representative Melissa Shusterman’s 158th, pitting them against each other if they both decided to run in this new one. district. Kuniholm pointed out that Fair Districts PA “did not have addresses of legislators and did not examine the impact of districts on incumbents, but rather how best to represent municipalities and communities.”

The organization map keeps incumbent Senators Carolyn Comitta and John Kane in their current regions, but moves State Senator Katie Muth’s district – a Montgomery County resident – out of the county entirely, creating a new northern district of Chester County, the 36th.

There is no guarantee that the People’s Cards will reach the State Department in January for acceptance as a new state legislative card. But again, Kuniholm warned that many factors will influence the lines drawn, and that a lawmaker assuming his district would remain largely untouched may be premature.

A spokesperson for Howard said on Tuesday that whatever district she finds herself included in next year will be the one she seeks election to. “Her intention is to get re-elected in the district that will end up being the one she lives in,” said Marty Marks, Howard’s communications consultant.

The Redistribution Commission will design and approve new legislative constituencies ahead of the 2022 election in response to demographic changes reflected in the 2020 US Census. New district lines for state congressional seats are defined in US law. State, requiring the approval of both legislative chambers and the governor.

The state’s population is flat or declining in the largely Republican parts of northern and western Pennsylvania, while parts of the eastern and south-central part of the state have seen modest growth.

After the commission produces the new maps for the State House and Senate, and after all appeals have been decided by the State Supreme Court, the county electoral boards need approximately three weeks to prepare for the petitions collection process to begin in mid-February.

Candidates have until March 8 to submit signed nomination petitions to appear on the May 17 primary ballot. There are also primary deadlines for advertising new districts in local newspapers and for sending ballots overseas, by post and mail.

“There is so much behind-the-scenes work long before Election Day,” Jessica Mathis, director of the State Department’s elections office, told the committee at a recent meeting on Capitol Hill.

To contact editor Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.

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