On primary day, Republicans and Democrats agree new congressional map may cause confusion

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People cast their votes at a polling location in South Philadelphia.  (AP File Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

People cast their votes at a polling location in South Philadelphia. (AP File Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

Days before Pennsylvania’s primary election, about 25 Democrats gathered for a meeting a few blocks away from the border of two recently reshaped congressional districts in North Philadelphia.

On a table with campaign literature, flyers that said, “re-elect Congressman Dwight Evans” were neatly tucked away and replaced with others that support Congressman Brendan Boyle.

Shirley Gregory, a neighborhood leader for the local Democratic Party, called the meeting at one of the Community College of Philadelphia’s satellite campuses to discuss last-minute logistics before the election.   

About two and half months ago, the area she represents was moved into a different congressional district that includes voters from the opposite side of the city.

“I just want everyone to know that there is mass confusion in this congressional race,” said Gregory. “I think that to have the ward meetings is going to help clear up the problems.”

Gregory’s volunteers have been leading a grassroots effort to spread the word to voters about the change in the district.

Both Republicans and Democrats expect some party members to show up to the polls on Tuesday and be surprised to learn that their congressional district has changed.

In February, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overhauled the state’s congressional map after finding the old version an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court dramatically changed the geography of all 18 districts — renumbering most of them.

Political analysts expect the changes to help Democrats in a year that some observers say the party could take control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

That may be why Republicans have been most vocal about how the court’s decision could cause voter confusion.

“You go to the polls and you thought you were represented by Congressman Rothfus or Congressman Fitzpatrick and you find out your not?” said Val DiGiorgio, Pennsylvania’s Republican Party chairman. “I mean that’s troubling.”

Since the court released the new map, DiGiorgio said it’s been a scramble to get ready for this year’s primary and he still calls foul on the Democratic majority court.

“It’s a difficult process when everything works smoothly. For the Supreme Court to throw this wrench into this mix to serve their partisan concerns is very distressing,” said DiGiorgio.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have also decried the changes. Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Majority Leader, has been ringing the alarm on social media.

State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, another Philadelphia Democratic neighborhood leader, says the old map was clearly rigged by Republicans and needed to be thrown out.

But he also expects a significant amount of confusion among voters at the polls.

“The change of the lines is appropriate. The problem is that people just aren’t used to it,” said Williams.  

He’s especially concerned because his area — in West Philadelphia — is now spilt between two congressional districts. And while the state and other local officials have done some outreach to inform voters, Williams says it’s not enough.

“[It] needed to be at a much higher level with advertisement and that just hasn’t been the case,” said Williams.

He added that political ads from individual candidates have been about the people, not about the district changes.  

Wanda Murren, Director of Communications for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which is in charge of elections, downplayed any sense of disarray. She notes that the map change didn’t affect polling places.

“I’ve seen the concern, certainly, but we don’t expect any voter confusion,” she said.

So what can people expect when they arrive at the polls?

She advises voters go to the state’s VOTES PA website to find their new district or contact county election offices for sample ballots.    

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