Ava Zarzycki & Ashley Zhou (The Baldwin School, Philadelphia) - 1st Place, PA House

About Ava: I am a rising junior at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA and I reside in Philadelphia, PA. I am a member of the Baldwin Indoor Track Team and participate in Girl UP, Enviro Club, & Cradles 2 Crayons. I am also a member of our Model Congress Team and a Maguire Scholar. Outside of school, I row six days a week through Whitemarsh Boat Club and go to many regattas!

About Ashley: I am a rising junior at the Baldwin School with an avid interest in math, technology, and global markets. I currently live in Bryn Mawr with my parents and puppy. I love reading the news and playing with data, so many thanks to Dr. Biss and Ms. Young for introducing us to the perfect combination-- mapping!

Judges' Statement

Instead of taking on the 17-district congressional map, they went big on their first swing. And they knocked it out of the park. Their state house was more competitive, split fewer counties, and was more compact than the average house map we received. They did a wonderful job with their personal statement as well. Fantastic work!

Personal Statement

An eventful 2020 taught many in our generation that each vote has a statistical impact. We learned about the math and manipulation behind the maps through an interdisciplinary course that inspired us to enter the 2021 Draw the Lines Contest. As young individuals soon being able to vote, we refused to be ignorant of the significant impact of gerrymandering when districting our home state, Pennsylvania. 

When entering this contest, we wanted to try something new and challenge ourselves with the new knowledge we had gained. Though tedious and time-consuming, we ultimately picked the 203-district State House legislative map to get to know our state better. We valued working as a team, as we had similar values and approaches to mapping that made the long process collaborative and rewarding.

Our main goal was to keep districts as compact as possible while maintaining equal population size groups, to accurately represent the areas where voters dwell. When districts are obviously gerrymandered, they are also physically uncompact-- not everyone's voices will be able to be heard, which is what the U.S. as a democracy is all about. To steer clear of the common practices of gerrymandering, we also did not target specific demographics to map our districts; rather, we used region and population as the main indicators of where to draw district boundaries. 

Our map had a total of 55 county splits, with an average compactness of 39%. For a map with over 200 districts, this is a big improvement from the current drawn map, which is much less compact and has differing district shapes and populations across the entire state. We were also able to keep the population deviation within 1000 from zero, meeting our other initial goal. 

Difficulties we encountered while mapping mostly occurred while adjusting for block regions we missed in the first time around. It was especially tedious to adjust each district so that they would be close to the ideal number, while keeping the compactness level as high as possible at the same time. Often when sectioning, it is also impossible to keep every statistic perfectly high. To maintain our values, we had to split 55 counties. 

Through discussions in class, we were able to take our peers’ opinions and values into consideration while creating our map. A common goal was focusing on a relative population between every district to be the least gerrymandered as possible. 

After completing this learning experience, we learned that in such a big world, young voices are actually some of the most important voices. Many people our age have no exposure to politics, especially knowledge about malpractices within politics. We realized mapping congressional and legislative districts is crucial each region’s votes, each state’s representation, and the decisions made by leaders of our country.