Blyden builds off awards in DTL’s previous two congressional competitions to cement his place with this map as one of the state’s most prolific and accomplished mappers. His compactness score was among the highest among all contestants in the Senate division. He achieved his goal to not limit county splits, particularly in tough-to-map areas like Allegheny County and the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area. Yet another outstanding effort.
My interest in redistricting
These DTL contests hit a trifecta of my interests. I am interested in politics, with a particular interest in issues of justice and political process, and how our election district maps are drawn is a core issue in having electoral justice and truly representative government. I enjoy games and puzzles – and I see DTL’s contests as being real-world puzzles to try to solve. And I like maps.
The problem of gerrymandering
Having a single-winner district system creates a spoiler effect, and thus a tendency toward a two-party system, limiting voters’ choices. Moreover, some districts tend to be dominated by one party and other districts the other party. So gerrymandering deliberately worsens a phenomenon that exists even in the absence of gerrymandering: the tendency of the political minorities of many districts to be effectively disenfranchised, left without meaningful votes.
Eliminating gerrymandering will go a long way toward reducing these problems, but even elimination of gerrymandering will not completely solve the problem. So long as we have election districts and an uneven distribution of the population, some people’s votes will be worth more than other people’s votes and, in all probability, at least a few people will not have a meaningful vote, by virtue of being a minority in their district.
Towards breaking the geographic assumption
Implicit in the concept of geographic legislative districts is an assumption of shared political interests or shared political identity based in geography. This assumption likely starts in the feudal origins of British parliament, transferred into U.S. electoral process.
The geographic assumption might have still made sense when the U.S. was founded two and a half centuries ago. The nation was overwhelmingly agrarian. Government was of, by, and for the landowning class of men. The U.S. was much more homogeneous occupationally and demographically than today. Communication was at the speed of horses and sailing ship. Modern voting technologies were not yet imagined.
Today, we live in a very different world. Only about 1% of our population are farmers. Electronic communication, especially broadcast media and the Internet, enable cultural similarities that cut across geographic location with far greater diversification within local populations. This means that people who share political identity are more likely to be geographically dispersed rather than concentrated in a single area. Does this assumption still make sense?
Political science has given us knowledge that was unavailable to the founders about the adverse effects of voting systems, and modern technology has made it easy to calculate tallies of transferrable votes that would have been extremely challenging in past centuries.
I think it is time that we use this knowledge and technology to at least partly liberate our legislative bodies from the geographic constraint. Most state legislatures, including that of Pennsylvania, are bicameral. Why not convert the larger of these bodies, the House, to a single, state-wide district from which the representatives are elected proportionally, using a single transferable voting (STV) or similar electoral system? That way virtually everyone’s vote would count and everyone’s vote would have nearly equal impact.
I'm offering two variants in this contest. The first variation, the variant of my passion, proposes the PA Senate districts in the map “DTL Blyden PA Senate 002” combined with a single statewide district for electing representatives in the General Assembly on a proportional representation basis, using STV or some similar voting system. That would allow break the geographic assumption and allow people to select themselves into constituencies in support of Representatives on whatever basis they desired rather than be bound by geography.
Since that arrangement does not really fit the parameters of the contest and because I wanted to explore the challenge of making a districting plan for the House, the second variation I offer is the same Senate plan but with a single-winner plan for the House in the map “DTL Blyden PA House 002” in lieu of the single-district proportional system. Each map is numbered 002 because they were my second efforts after failed 001 maps.
The values that guided the two maps were similar. In addition to the required goals of set number of districts (50 and 203, respectively), each entirely contiguous, and populations within a couple percent of the target population, I was striving mainly to make compact districts with high population equivalence, with “clean” boundary lines. I did not pay attention to the partisan mix, which I consider another form of gerrymandering. Nor did I pay much attention to the minority-majority composition.
In each map I also have in mind the idea I call regionality: that districts should reflect internal political commonalities; that the parts of a district should “go together naturally” in our sense of geographic-based identities that come from common geographic, economic, and social factors.
In the Senate map I very much tried to avoid county splits. I think the results demonstrate that amply almost everywhere other than Allegheny County and the southeast region. District 2 is the major exception, which I ran down the Susquehanna based on regionality.
The Senate map was not significantly more challenging from the challenges of making congressional district maps in prior DTL contests. There are more districts, but the basic process of putting nearly equal populations into compact districts with few county and municipal splits was not appreciably different. With only 17 or 18 districts in the CD redistricting, there were larger populations that were much more robust to changing a block group or two, so this was a very minor issue. Even with 50 districts in the Senate map it was very manageable.