December 11, 2017 / 03:50 PM
Democrats eye gains in Pennsylvania trial on 'goofy' gerrymandering

LOWER MERION, Pa- In Pennsylvania state Senator Daylin Leach’s bid to win a seat vital to the Democratic Party’s chances in 2018 elections of taking control of the U.S. Congress, his opponents may not be his biggest obstacle.

Leach is running in one of the country’s most gerrymandered congressional districts, one with such a twisting, winding shape that it has earned the derisive nickname “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

The 7th congressional district has become a national poster child for critics of gerrymandering, the process by which one party draws district boundaries to ensure an advantage among voters. Democrats say the lines have helped Republicans like U.S. Representative Patrick Meehan, the four-term incumbent Leach seeks to unseat, to stay in office.


That could soon change, however. On Monday in state court in Harrisburg, one of three lawsuits challenging those boundaries heads to trial. The outcome could shift several battleground districts in Pennsylvania and in turn boost the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, where they last held the majority from January 2007 to January 2011.

The 7th district is so precisely engineered that at one point it narrows to the width of a single seafood restaurant, snaking past two other congressional districts so it can link two far flung Republican-leaning areas.

“Three congressional districts all converge on this spot,” Leach said from the parking lot at Creed’s Seafood and Steaks last week, as cars whizzed overhead on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“This is the sixth; over there is the seventh; and down that road is the 13th,” he said, pointing in several directions. “This is what gerrymandering looks like on the ground.”

Leach has at least four opponents to defeat in the Democratic primary before he would run against Meehan. A spokesman for the Republican did not respond to requests for comment on the trial over gerrymandering.

Critics of gerrymandering say it helps explain why Pennsylvania has sent 13 Republicans and only five Democrats to the U.S. House since the 2011 redistricting, despite being a closely divided swing state.

Republican legislators counter that the lines were drawn in accordance with the law and that their candidates have prevailed in elections thanks to superior policy ideas.

The Democrats have targeted six Republican-held districts in the state as part of their quest to pick up the 24 House seats they need to overturn the Republicans, who also have a Senate majority and President Donald Trump in the White House.

Democrats need to win the nationwide popular vote by at least 10 points in 2018 to do so, in part because of gerrymandered lines, according to Michael Li, a redistricting expert and lawyer at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

“Pennsylvania is probably the most aggressive of the gerrymanders,” he said. “You look at some of the maps in the Philadelphia suburbs, and it looks like a 4-year-old just slapped paint around.”