Under the 2011 Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act, the Republican-majority Pa. General Assembly moved Swarthmore out of the 7th district, of which it had been a part for over 75 years, and into the 1st district, grouping it with reliably Democratic Philadelphia suburbs. Outside of a district so gerrymandered it has been nicknamed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck,” the cutout of Swarthmore now outlines Goofy’s left arm, and at the neck of the peninsula-like shape that envelops the town, the 1st district is no wider than ½ mile.
According to Philly.com, the 7th district was 52.8 percent Democratic voters and 47.2 percent Republican before redistricting, while the new Congressional lines created a 51.8 percent Republican majority. Republican Patrick Meehan has represented the district since 2011, but will not be running for the 2018 midterm elections. The New York Times reported on Jan. 20 that Meehan used taxpayer dollars to fund a sexual assault settlement with a former aide he called his “soulmate.”
On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued an order stating that the Congressional district lines drawn in 2011 “clearly, plainly and palpably” violate the state constitution. The decision was made on the “sole basis” of the state constitution instead of relying on the national Constitution, as did recent gerrymandering cases concerning Wisconsin and North Carolina. On Feb. 5, Justice Samuel A. Alito rejected GOP lawmakers’ appeal to the Supreme Court for review of the decision.
The General Assembly is scheduled to submit the new congressional map to Governor Wolf on Friday. The court decision stipulates that it will create a redistricting plan itself–an unprecedented move–unless Wolf approves the plan by Feb. 15. Based on Swarthmore’s historical inclusion in the 7th district as well as the tenuously incongruous shape of the map around the Swarthmore area, the new map is likely to re-incorporate the town of Swarthmore into the 7th district. Pa. is one of the few states in which Congressmen can run for office outside of their district of residence, the district will be more competitive than it has been in years as candidates contend to fill incumbent House member Republican Patrick Meehan’s soon-to-be-vacant seat. This all comes at a critical time, when Democrats seek to flip 24 Republican seats in order to win back the House under Trump. There are 18 congressional districts in Pennsylvania, 13 of which are currently held by Republicans; according to reports from The New York Times, a more nonpartisan map would make three of these seats likely to swing Democratic. Adding to the chaos is the vacancy of Bob Brady’s seat, a House Democrat who has represented the 1st district since 1998. His retirement, announced on Jan. 31, followed the release of court documents from a still-ongoing F.B.I. investigation in November 2017 concerning a $90,000 payment Brady made to one of his opponents during his 2012 campaign.
In addition, for the first year in many years, the competitive primary falls during finals, so registered Swarthmore students will be able to vote in the primary without having to request absentee ballots. As the Phoenix reported on Nov. 16, Swarthmore student turnout had a major role in the results of local elections, when two Democrats were elected to the Delaware County Council, which had not had Democratic members for over 30 years.
“In Pennsylvania as a college student, our vote probably matters more than nearly anywhere else in the country,” Ben Stern ’20, president of the Swarthmore College Democrats, said. “Especially in 2018, because we have a vulnerable governor and a senator and new highly contested Congressional elections.”
The Phoenix will follow-up with news following the expected release of a new map on Feb. 15.