David Thornburgh's Testimony to the PA State Government Committee
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David Thornburgh's Testimony to the PA State Government Committee

Watch the live testimony, beginning around 1:25:20 of this video clip.

Below is the written testimony submitted to the committee beforehand:

Good morning Chairs Grove and Conklin and members of the PA House State Government Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about Pennsylvania’s congressional redistricting process.

I am here as the President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, Pennsylvania’s oldest nonpartisan good-government nonprofit. Since 2016 we have run the Draw the Lines project. From its launch, Draw the Lines has used competitions to give to the public the same type of advanced tools and data that your committee will use to draw the commonwealth’s voting districts. Our intention was to equip Pennsylvanians with the skills to participate in this year’s redistricting process in a constructive fashion.

I’m proud that we can credibly call Draw the Lines the largest public mapping competition of its kind in the history of the republic. We’ve engaged 7,211 Pennsylvanians in drawing their own voting maps. They’ve come from 40 of PA’s 67 counties, representing 90% of PA’s population. They range from 13 year-old high school freshmen, to college students from institutions across PA, to senior citizens. They collectively produced 1,500 completed submissions, each unique in its boundaries and metrics.

Over the last three years, along with a geographically and politically diverse group of judges from our regional steering committees, our team has reviewed each and every one of these maps. It became clear to us that a “wisdom of crowds” had emerged and that we could attempt to reflect that in a single, community-inspired map. 

Thus, the Pennsylvania Citizens’ Map was born. It is a composite set of 17 congressional districts that attempts to represent what 7,200 Pennsylvanians created with their own Draw the Lines maps.

Individual citizen maps were drawn and scored on common metrics using free online software, like DistrictBuilder and Dave’s Redistricting App. The statistical averages became benchmarks by which to draw the Citizens’ Map, as did the values that mappers declared important to them. It also reflects the regional trends we saw our mappers present of their hometowns and communities. The Citizens’ Map, in effect, represents the everyday Pennsylvania mapper. 

Once drafted, Draw the Lines staff enlisted our Citizen Map Corps, an experienced group of Pennsylvania mappers who have demonstrated their aptitude for mapping the commonwealth by winning previous DTL competitions. Working together over a series of meetings, we refined the map over nearly 10 iterations to consider and accommodate feedback. Once satisfied, we published the map to our website and began sharing it publicly. We have since fielded nearly 100 public comments on the map, asking for peoples’ perspective on its strengths and weaknesses. Generally, about 70% of commenters claim they would vote for it if given the chance. We are happy to share those public comments if it pleases the committee.

Not only was the Citizens’ Map drawn and vetted by Pennsylvanians, it is objectively better by most standard redistricting metrics. Like the 2018 map, it only splits 14 counties, half of what the last legislature-drawn map in 2011 split (28). It scores better in compactness and creates more competitive elections than either the 2018 or 2011 map. It effectively honors the Voting Rights Act, creating two majority-minority districts in Philadelphia. And because partisan fairness was a matter of great concern to our mappers, including Democrats, Republicans, and independents, it clears several fairness benchmarks.

The Committee of Seventy and Draw the Lines believe that the Citizens’ Map is a sufficient starting point for your work. We are happy to share all information, details, and process about how the map was compiled.

Two primary lessons emerged from this process that we hope the committee will take to heart as it starts drawing its own map.

First, the Citizens’ Map demonstrates the value of producing a map for public consideration before it can be finalized and voted upon. We call on the General Assembly to produce between one and three preliminary congressional maps for the public to review. The committee should then hold at least four additional public meetings in different regions around the Commonwealth to solicit public feedback on the preliminary maps. Feedback would be limited to comments on individual features of the maps, a ranking of the maps (if more than one), and/or commonly used metrics derived from the maps. These hearings should be accessible to as many people as possible, with options for virtual participation and evening participation. 

Second, to accompany the Citizens’ Map, Draw the Lines produced “The Story of the Map.” This narrative explains the different choices we made in finalizing the map’s boundaries, including questions like how we went from 18 districts to 17, what we did with incumbents, and how the map complies with the standards set out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “The Story of the Map” also provides a description of each of the 17 districts. We strongly encourage the General Assembly to create a narrative for the preliminary and final maps you produce. You can also use it to discuss how you incorporated public feedback from all of the testimony you’ve gathered at these hearings and the map submissions you’ve received online.

Using the example set by the Citizens’ Map, there is a great opportunity for this committee and your counterpart in the Senate to truly demonstrate that you are committed to the most publicly transparent redistricting process in Pennsylvania history. Our team is excited to talk with you further about the Citizens’ Map and how it can be helpful to the important task you have in front of you.