We relished Clara’s candor in her personal statement in talking through how, as an out-of-state student at Drexel, she struggled with mapping parts of Pennsylvania she’d never visited. Then we marveled at how well she did in overcoming that handicap, fashioning a map with the highest compactness score in her region. She took on this “learning experience’ with gusto, doing extra work by attending virtual DTL events to learn more about mapping. She called her mapping experience “inspiring.” We’d use the same word to describe her entry.
Throughout drawing my congressional map, I did encounter some problems. The most pervasive one was that, being from a different state, I am not very familiar with most of Pennsylvania, while being slightly more comfortable working on the area around Philadelphia (which is where I now live and where I attended university).
Because of this uncertainty with the northern and western parts of the state, I made my key priority finding ways to attempt high compactness while pursuing competitiveness in at least half of the districts, which I was able to accomplish.
While I at first wished I had more knowledge of communities in drawing my map, utilizing the topographical and municipality views of the map helped me to gain some of this knowledge. The challenge sparked my interest and drive to go out and learn even more. Being unfamiliar with much of the western part of the state, I challenged myself to start in the Erie area and work my way to Philadelphia.
In attempting to limit any county splits, it helped me realize the duality of a task like this – how keeping counties whole maintains communities and ease of voting consistency, but can also limit competitiveness and majority-minority balance.
Because of this, I felt it was fair to have a couple of districts which were less compact that the others, in order to capture more ideological diversity while staying in the region (e.g. Districts 7, 9, and 12). These were difficult though, and I feel as though I have more to learn about the communities these districts extend into, to ensure that promoting competitiveness over compactness was the proper action.
Overall, competitive districts were a priority for me, as that competition will improve voters’ political efficacy and turnout.
Before beginning my map drawing, I attended a talk on Zoom hosted by Fair Districts PA, with former Draw the Lines winners and contributors sharing their approaches, mindsets, and experiences. As I did not have friends or colleagues with extensive districting knowledge who I could turn to, listening in on that discussion was helpful and informative.
Additionally, I did my best to utilize the tools on the mapping site, though I’m certain I could have spent much longer working through the different map layers, views, and info settings. Briefly looking at leaderboards and top maps definitely showed me how much farther I could have gone, and how much mappers commit to certain values such as compactness or equivalence.
While it's formidable to see how effectively others have mapped, it’s also inspiring and invigorating to know how dedicated people are, and how much farther I could take this with more time and familiarity with Pennsylvania and the mapping site itself.
I am taking this as a learning experience, and hope to grow my knowledge and participate in the competition again in the future.