With no deal on districts, is Pa. primary still on for April 24?

Posted: February 22, 2012

HARRISBURG - Will the Pennsylvania primary take place as scheduled on April 24?

Yes, says the top man in the state Senate.

Not necessarily, say his House counterparts.

With no agreement yet reached on legislative district maps for the 2012 elections, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said Wednesday he expected the primary to occur as scheduled with the existing maps.

"I don't see that changing legislatively," Pileggi (R., Delaware) said after a brief meeting of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, on which he serves. "There is no way we can have a [new] map in place for April 24."

Not so fast, said House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) and Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny). They said they reserved the right to introduce legislation to postpone the primary.

"I think it's an open question still," said Smith's spokesman, Steve Miskin. "I don't think Pennsylvanians are going to sleep thinking we have April 24."

The House leaders contend that the current maps of legislative districts, based on the 2000 census, are unconstitutional because they use dated population figures and therefore violate the "one man, one vote" principle.

The five-member reapportionment panel - whose members, along with Pileggi, include Democratic and Republican leaders of the three other legislative caucuses and a chairman selected by the Supreme Court - is charged with mapping boundaries for the 203 House seats and 50 Senate seats based on the 2010 census.

Wednesday's meeting was the commission's first since the original maps it presented in December were thrown out last month on a 4-3 vote of the state Supreme Court - causing a degree of chaos in Pennsylvania political circles.

"Everyone is intensely trying to arrive at a plan," the commission chairman, former Superior Court Judge J. Stephen McEwen Jr., said Wednesday, "We are close, but we are not there yet."

Chief Justice Ronald Castille, writing for the court's majority in the redistricting case, said that in trying to give districts equal population, the commission had ignored other state constitutional requirements that districts be compact and that municipalities not be broken up unless "absolutely necessary."

The ruling left the primary contest date and status of local boundaries in limbo, and forced the commission back to the drawing board to create maps based on that order.

Watchdog groups and political leaders say moving the April 24 primary at this late date would bring confusion not only to state elections but to the presidential primary as well.

"We've got to move on and we'll go with old districts. The courts have spoken," state GOP chairman Rob Gleason said Wednesday. "Some may feel improperly represented now, but the next election is just two years away."

Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania, said he did not see any conceivable way of redrawing lines at this late date.

"You can't change the rules in the middle of the process," said Kauffman. "Nominating petition deadlines have passed. There will be more chaos if they move the date."

The commission is to meet again on Tuesday in Harrisburg, at which it may give preliminary approval to the new maps. That starts a 30-day comment period before the panel can approve a final plan.

The clock then starts on another 30-day period for citizens to appeal, as groups did successfully after the first maps were submitted - which could trigger another round of court challenges.


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584, aworden@phillynews.com, or @inkyamy on Twitter.

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