Christiana Paljug (Fox Chapel Area H.S., Allegheny County) - Honorable Mention, West Youth

About Christiana: I am a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh. I found the Draw the Lines competition though my AP Government class, when we talked about gerrymandering and the problems it presents, even in our home state. I really enjoyed tackling the challenge of Pennsylvania's districts. Outside of my academics, I am an avid Fox Chapel Choir member and a Foil Fencer.

Judges' statement

Christiana managed to draw 15 competitive districts in her map, which isn’t easy.  We note that her map looks a little “funky,” but it certainly meets her main goal of making more competitive districts. We loved her personal statement, which called competitive districts “inverse gerrymandering” and demonstrated a real understanding of the nuances of legislative mapping. She said her interest in redistricting was piqued because her own congressional district had been redistricted in 2018, resulting in two incumbents running against each other (Keith Rothfus vs. Conor Lamb). Kudos to Christiana for acknowledging in her personal statement the challenges involved in balancing all of the values that come into play in drawing legislative maps.

Personal statement

The problem of redistricting became known to me during the midterm elections of 2018, when my district's election featured two incumbents  running against each other because of the redistricting. Keith Rothfus, a three-term Republican had to face Conor Lamb, a d\Democrat who had a surprise win in a special election in Spring 2018. As a citizen, this occurrence interested me because I wanted to understand why they were changing the districts. What I learned is that it is a lot more complicated than I thought. In an effort tolearn more about the issue, I found this competition. I decided to make a map to try to assess what I, a high schooler, could do to deal with this issue.

The answer is not a lot, but I tried. I decided to prioritize only one thing, and attempted to make my entire map follow it perfectly. I wanted to prioritize competitive districts. While researching for my map, I decided this was the perfect solution. It is like inverse gerrymandering. Instead of mapping in favor of a party, map in favor of both parties equally, which originally sounds like a really perfect solution.

I picked this because I thought that it really embraces some key factors of Pennsylvania. Like the fact we have enough Democrats and Republicans to be a swing state, and that competitive elections are always more interesting. When a congressional election is competitive, the candidates will make a larger attempt to relate to their constituents and it gives the newcomer more of a chance against the incumbent. For these reasons, I decided to prioritize competitive elections.

This map was a test of whether it's  possible to make every single district in PA competitive. The only other input I used to make it was to make sure it is constitutional, so all districts have the same population and are each one piece.

I had several challenges while making my map. First being that I grossly underestimated the number of people in Philadelphia and second I underestimated the number of Democrats in the state. The biggest mistake I made was starting in the West not the East, but as a Pittsburgher this was entirely intentional.

Soon after my first couple of districts I began to have to take a large piece of ruralTrepublican areas of the state and a little bit of very democratic Philadelphia and make that a district, this continued to happen until I had too much Philadelphia left and no more Tepublicans left without districts. As a result I modified my goal. I decided that for my map getting 17 competitive districts would be as impossible as making downtown Philadelphia vote Republican. So, I tried to let the exact area that is Philadelphia be its own Democratic-leaning district.  To my disappointment, I found Philadelphia has so many people that there had to be two districts there that highly favored Democrats.

I learned from this challenge that although it is good to find ways to make districts as competitive as possible, it is also important to let the people see their opinion and vote reflected in their district.