President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of 68,000 votes. The state has about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
And yet, 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats are held by Republicans. One of the reasons for that imbalance is gerrymandering, the drawing of voting districts to benefit a political party. Pennsylvania is often ranked among the most gerrymandered states in the country.
In Pennsylvania, gerrymandering helps Republicans hold onto their seats. But in Maryland, Democrats have drawn the districts to their advantage. In both states — like most states in the country — the party in power would rather keep their majority, so it's hard for redistricting efforts to get traction in the state legislature.
After voting down Republican Governor Larry Hogan's proposal to redraw the congressional districts, Maryland Democrats have offered a plan of their own: a six-state regional pact. If Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina agree to create independent commissions to redraw congressional districts more fairly by 2020, Maryland will too.
The idea is that these six state would even each other out — some would go more red while others would go more blue.
Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said it's a novel idea that addresses one of the central roadblocks — no one wants to go first.
"The excuse that you get from lawmakers a lot of the time for not doing redistricting reform is that they don't want to unilaterally disarm," he said. If they do, "you're sort of creating fairer maps in one state while a state controlled by your political opponent is able to go on and aggressively maximize their advantage."
Pennsylvania State Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton) is excited about the idea of a pact. She has proposed a bill that would create an independent commission to redraw the congressional districts, similar to a bill she has tried (unsuccessfully) in the past.
But Boscola hopes that a little teamwork might make the difference.
"I'm glad to see that Maryland did this," she said. "I am definitely taking a look and I will mirror that legislation in Pennsylvania. We have to do something and this might get it moving."
The idea is less popular in Maryland, where Republicans see this as a stalling mechanism from the Democrats.
Maryland State Senator Michael Hough (R-District 4) told the Frederick News Post, "It's just stupid. I mean, I don't know how else to put it. We are in charge of our own redistricting and then to throw out a bill on the floor that says, 'Oh, we've heard your concerns. We'll fix it when five other states agree with us.' No. That's not how it works."
The bill passed the Maryland state Senate and goes now to the House — where Democrats hold nearly twice as many seats as Republicans.