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December 21, 2011 | By | Posted in General News

Some of PA’s districts all over the congressional map

Independent firm ranks PA’s 7th District as fifth least compact
 
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
 
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s newly approved congressional districts are among the least compact in the nation, led by the new 7th District, which ranks as one of the nation’s top five for that dubious honor.

The new congressional map was approved Tuesday by the state House, but the odd shapes that crisscross the map have raised the ire of newspaper editorial boards, chambers of commerce and government reform groups.
 
Now, an independent statistical analysis firm has crunched the numbers and weighed in as well.
 
Among the 26 states that have completed the once-per-decade congressional redistricting process, Pennsylvania’s new districts rank well below the national average for compactness, said Daniel McGlone, a GIS analyst with Azavea, a geospatial analysis firm in Philadelphia.
 
“Prior to the recent redistricting, we already had some of the least compact districts in the nation, and then the score actually decreased,” McGlone said. “Needless to say, Pennsylvania is going to be right near the top in terms of least compact districts in the nation.”

Pennsylvania Compactness Rankings
District Incumbent Party Polsby-Popper Score
7 Pat Meehan R 0.041
13 Allyson Schwartz D 0.076
1 Bob Brady D 0.080
6 Jim Gerlach R 0.082
17 Tim Holden D 0.084
12 Mark Critz/Jason Altmire* D 0.098
14 Michael Doyle D 0.114
16 Joe Pitts R 0.129
11 Lou Barletta R 0.136
9 Bill Shuster R 0.138
15 Charlie Dent R 0.145
10 Tom Marino R 0.146
18 Tim Murphy R 0.169
  Pennsylvania Average   0.171
3 Mike Kelly R 0.211
  U.S. Average**   0.227
5 Glenn Thompson R 0.271
8 Mike Fitzpatrick R 0.365
2 Chaka Fattah D 0.385
4 Todd Platts R 0.407
       
  * = Combined as result of state losing one congressional seat    
  ** = includes 26 states that have completed redistricting process so far    
  Source: Azavea
   
 
McGlone said Azavea does not use the term “gerrymandering,” because it implies political intention behind drawing the districts. Instead, they measure “compactness” on an objective scale.
 
“People can decide for themselves, if it should be called gerrymandering,” he said.
 
The scale, called the Polsby-Popper measure, scores the ratio of a district’s area compared with a theoretical circle, the same circumference as the district’s perimeter. Essentially, it measures the degree to which a district is indented against what the district would look like if it was expanded to be a perfect circle.
 
“If a district has a bunch of indentations in its border, it will have a lower compactness score,” McGlone said.
 
The scale runs from zero to one, with one representing a perfectly circular district with no indentations.
 
Nationally, the average Polsby-Popper score for a congressional district is 0.227. The average score among Pennsylvania’s 18 new congressional districts is 0.171, down from 0.174 on the map used for the past 10 years.
 
The Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District has a score of 0.041, the lowest in the state, according to the Polsby-Popper measure.
 
Only four districts in the nation — North Carolina’s 12th and 1st districts, Maryland’s 3rd District and Ohio’s 9th District — rank lower on the scale. However, that could change as more states complete redrawing congressional districts in the coming weeks.
 
While the 7th Congressional District leads the way, most of Pennsylvania’s districts score below the national average. Others with low scores include the 1st District in Philadelphia and the 13th District, which is mostly contained within Montgomery County.
 
Four of the state’s districts do exceed the national average compactness score.  (See all the districts here.)
 
According to the Polsby-Popper scale, the Pennsylvania 4th Congressional District in south-central region is the most compact on the new map. Philadelphia’s 2nd District, Bucks County’s 8th District, and the 5th District, which extends across most of Pennsylvania’s sparsely populated northwest, also score better than the national average.  
 
Christopher Borick, a pollster and professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said the non-compact districts generally result from an effort to turn some of the state’s naturally competitive areas, like the Philadelphia suburbs, into districts safe for one party or the other.
 
“This is a system that is designed for one purpose and one purpose only, to protect incumbents,” Borick said.
 
Democratic incumbents hold five of the seven least compact districts.
 
Borick said that resulted from Republicans attempting to carve those districts to pack as many Democratic voters into them as possible.
 
The statistical analysis likely is to add weight to complaints about the political nature of the new districts.
 
“We’re doing this to protect incumbents. We’re doing this to serve political interests,” said state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, who lives within the 7th Congressional District’s odd-shaped lines.

Top Five Least Compact Districts
Rank District Polsby-Popper Score
1 NC-12 0.029
2 MD-3 0.033
3 OH-9 0.037
4 NC-1 0.041
5
PA-7
0.041
  Source: Azavea
 
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee, which approved the new map last week, said the new map “meets all of our requirements of being constitutional, of being legal, of being fair.”
 
An alternative proposal offered by House Democrats this week had a higher average score — 0.20 compared with 0.17 — for the 18 congressional districts than the Republican plan approved Tuesday.
 
 
The district map also could be challenged in the state Supreme Court, though history suggests widespread changes are unlikely, even if the court does uphold a challenge, said Terry Madonna, professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.
 
Madonna said the court has only upheld challenges if districts have unequal populations or disenfranchise minorities, but not based on compactness.
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