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Reporters try drawing Congressional District lines

Photo from app.districtbuilder.org A look at what Times Observer reporters Brian Ferry and Josh Cotton would like to see in the upcoming draw of the stateás Congressional Districts (assuming thereás something else to be done with that slice of Northumberland County).

The completion of the 2020 Census is going to kick off one of the nation’s next great controversies – redrawing Congressional District lines.

At this stage of the process, there’s really only one thing we know for sure – the state’s Congressional District lines will change.

The last time the lines were drawn, we drew our own map with a map of the state and sharpie. Suffice it to say that districtbuilder.org dramatically helped this go-around.

While we set out to craft a map for the state, the question we really focused on was this: “Where should Warren County go?”

A couple notes that informed our decision making – we paid no attention to partisan “gerrymanderred” boundaries (you won’t find Goofy kicking Donald Duck here) and also didn’t consider the social issues that the site gave us access to, specifically race.

As we toyed with the map, there are really three options – including the county in the northwest region, making it part of a central highlands district or crafting a district that follows the Route 6 corridor.

The most logical in our view would be to include the county as part of the northwestern corner – there are a myriad number of economic ties and entities that bring the region together, such as the Northwest Commission and the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College.

But is Warren County, as a result, under-represented in the same district with big, bad Erie? Would the county be more well-served to be in a district with primarily similar, rural counties? If you think that’s the case, then the central highlands option or the Route 6 corridor options appeal more to you.

And, yes, we placed a premium on keeping county borders contiguous.

Of the state’s 67 counties, our map proposal resulted in the splitting of just 12 counties. We think it’s important to clear up ambiguity regarding who a person’s representative is and remember the time that we used to jump Congressional District lines driving from North Warren into the City of Warren.

That makes it less than clear who you’re representative is, which we view as problematic. There’s also value to local and county officials not having to lobby multiple representatives (sorry Lancaster County).

Of the 12 counties that we split, several present with no additional option. Allegheny, Philadelphia and Montgomery are too large to be a district on their own and have to get split in some way or another.

The rest of the split counties we view as unfortunate, especially the split in Northumberland County. We also would have preferred to keep Lackawanna and Luzerne together but that’s difficult because of their respective sizes.

More than anything, the process of drawing maps is something we enjoy. It forces us to think about regional connections, the movement of people and goods and even, to some degree, issues of culture.

Continuing declines in Pennsylvania are expected to reduce the number of seats from 18 to 17.

The geographically monstrous districts in the Commonwealth are going to continue to get larger.

The end result is that our representation will be naturally thinned, finite resources spread over an ever-expanding area.

There might not be much we can do about that today. But there’s value in knowing how the process works. And building a map makes you think through those things.

And if there’s a chance to comment and impact these decisions, that knowledge will be vital.

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