- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

A panel of federal judges threw out Pennsylvania's new congressional-districts map yesterday and gave the state legislature three weeks to draw a new map or face the prospect of the court redrawing it.
Republicans, who control both the statehouse and the governorship in Harrisburg, had expected the districts approved in January to change the balance in the state's delegation from 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to 13 Republicans and six Democrats.
In the U.S. House, a gain of six seats would give the Democrats control. Both parties thus consider every seat gained or lost through redistricting to be critical.
The state legislature will have to try again after the special three-judge panel ruled the districts violated the "one-man, one-vote" principle by having too much of a deviation in the populations of the districts.
The state plan's districts had a deviation rate of 19, which means districts could have as many as 19 persons more or fewer than the ideal district would have. That means that someone in a district with fewer voters than the ideal district would have more sway than someone in a district with more than the ideal number.
States are using the 2000 Census results to draw up new district plans. Pennsylvania, which had slower population growth than the nationwide average, is losing two seats. The legislature has three weeks to meet and approve a plan that reduces the deviance.
Republicans expect the legislature to try to exchange precincts or parts of precincts from one district to another and don't expect the overall election picture to change much.
"We expect there to be minor tweaks to the plan, but we expect the basic tenets of the plan to remain in place," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which works to recruit and elect Republicans to the House.
But Democrats said Republicans might have to compromise on the map to meet the court-imposed deadline.
"The legislature now has three weeks to pass a constitutional plan, or a fair map will be drawn in court," said Rep. Martin Frost, head of the Democrats' redistricting task force, in a statement yesterday.
"Meeting that challenge will require the Republican majority to work with Democrats to craft a plan that is fair to all Pennsylvanians," the Texas Democrat said.
The Pennsylvania Democrats in the suit had asked for the judges to redraw the district lines. Instead, the panel gave the legislature the three-week window.
It was unclear yesterday what effect the court decision will have on the candidate filing deadline, which was March 12, or on the state's primary date, which is May 21.

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