Harrisburg – February 9, 2018 – In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf on the preparation of new congressional maps, state Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) reminded the governor that the new districts must adhere to the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Recent statements and actions from the majority parties in the General Assembly have raised alarms,” Hughes said.
The General Assembly failed to enact a new congressional reapportionment plan following the state Supreme Court’s ruling declaring the current map unconstitutional. The governor is responsible for reviewing new maps to ensure they contain constitutionally-valid districts.
The Voting Rights Act dictates how districts with a majority of minority voters should be drawn. Hughes pointed out that the 2011 maps included two majority-minority districts. He said Pennsylvania’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts were majority-minority districts and they must remain so in new maps produced by the governor.
Hughes said he was worried that mapmakers would ignore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act due to the recent U.S. Supreme Court case that weakened the act. Hughes noted that, in fact, many provisions of the act remain in effect and must be followed.
The text of Hughes’ letter to Gov. Tom Wolf follows:
February 9, 2018
The Honorable Tom Wolf, Governor
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Room 225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
Dear Governor Wolf:
As the redrawing of congressional maps shifts from the General Assembly to you, I wanted to remind you that the Voting Rights Act must be considered in the drawing of congressional lines. The pace of redrawing maps has moved the Commonwealth into uncharted territories. Recent statements and actions from the majority parties in the General Assembly have raised alarms.
No matter the political affiliation, all parties must consider and adhere to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The importance of these requirements cannot be ignored. Recently, some have argued that the Voting Rights Act has been so watered down that it need not be considered when congressional lines are being drawn.
I want to be clear that perspective is far from the truth.
After centuries of law and activities that prevented African-American’s from voting, the Voting Rights Act was enacted; however, in recent years there has been a rise in voter suppression and voter nullification activities. Concerns of noncompliance with provisions of the Voting Rights Act is national in scope; unfortunately, those concerns have hit close to home with the enactment of Act 18 of 2012, which imposed photo identification requirements for voting. Fortunately, Act 18 was ruled unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, these activities have striking similarities to those which led up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As elected officials, we must remain vigilant and combat any attack on the most fundamental tenets of our democracy, the right to vote and fair representation.
The truth is, the United States Supreme Court struck a serious blow to several aspects of the Voting Rights Act, including Section 5 and pre-clearance for certain states with a deep and troubling history of racial discrimination in the election process including the drawing of legislative districts. However, many provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in effect and must be considered during the map drawing process.
The Voting Rights Act still dictates when and how districts that have historically had a majority of their population made up of minority voters should be drawn. Pennsylvania’s 2011 Congressional Maps include two majority-minority districts, the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. These districts must continue as majority-minority districts. When considering what the new congressional map will look like, the 1st and 2nd congressional districts cannot be watered down or packed. It is imperative that we comply with the Voting Rights Act and that these districts maintain their majority-minority distributions.
Our democracy is at stake. I implore you to be mindful of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act when you review the newly proposed congressional maps.
If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.
Vincent J. Hughes, Chairman
Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee