Daniel Pollack (Robert Morris Univ., Allegheny County) - 2nd Place, Western Higher Ed

About Daniel: I am a 23-year old, first-year law student at Duquesne University School of Law. I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Robert Morris University in 2020. While I have worked in politics in the past, my long-term goal is to work in civil litigation.

Judges' Statement

Daniel’s process in drawing his map was clear, crisp and confident, as detailed in his impressive personal statement.  He know which values mattered to him, and why, and which did not, and why.  He valued compactness and scored well there.  He valued communities of interest; both the map and his essay show interesting thinking around that concept.  The drawback that relegates him to runner-up in his region is that, while saying population equivalence was his priority, he got only to a mediocre score there. Still, we’re inclined to agree with his concluding claim: “Elections would be much fairer if state legislators drew maps like mine.”

Personal Statement

Before I began drawing the 17-seat congressional district map of Pennsylvania, I had to decide what my values were, so that the map could reflect those values. I decided that the four most important values to me were equal population, contiguity, communities of interest, and compactness.

Equal population was most important to me, as I wanted to uphold the principle of “one person, one vote,” which was established in the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Reynolds v Sims. I believe that I came very close to this, as my largest district has only 6,698 more people than my smallest district. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that all the districts in my map were contiguous. In other words, I did not want one part of a district to be disconnected from the rest of that district. I believe that I did an excellent job of this, as all 17 of my districts were rated “contiguous” by the “Draw the Lines” website. Third, I wanted to make sure that communities of interest were kept together in the same districts. In other words, I wanted communities with similar identities and policy interests to be kept in the same district.

Perhaps the best example of this is the way that I designed districts around Pittsburgh. I kept the city of Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs in the same district, rather than dividing them. It makes the map look slightly odd, but it was important to me to keep Pittsburgh together.

Additionally, I did not want conservative rural voters in places like Southwestern Pennsylvania to be grouped together with more liberal voters in Pittsburgh. For this reason, I grouped together Fayette County, Greene County, Washington County, a small portion of southern Allegheny County, and a portion of Westmoreland County. As a result, urban voters in Pittsburgh got their own district, and blue-collar voters in Southwestern Pennsylvania got their own district.

Lastly, I wanted all of my districts to be compact. Simply put, I wanted districts that spread as little as possible from their centers, with smooth borders. This turned out to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. It was hard to make smooth borders because some of the census tracts have very odd shapes. My goal was 40% compactness, and I came close. My map has 39.3% compactness. As you can see if you view the map, most of the districts are fairly compact. Unfortunately, some of the districts have jagged borders, but this was mostly out of my control. Since equal population was my number one priority, I had to sacrifice compactness in some districts.

When drawing this map, I did not worry about county/municipal splits, party advantage, competitive elections, incumbent protection, and minority representation. These values were simply not as important to me.

There were many challenges in drawing this map. First and foremost, making sure the districts had equal population was very difficult. In order to achieve equal population, I had to split up many counties. This took many hours to do, as I had to draw many parts of the map based on small census tracts.

My second biggest challenge was making sure that the districts were compact. The large populations of the major urban areas (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) made it difficult to draw compact districts. Additionally, some of the census tracts are in very odd shapes, which also makes it difficult to draw compact districts. For these reasons, I do have a couple of districts (ex: District 7) with low compactness percentages.

The last major challenge I faced was drawing the districts in Philadelphia County and the “collar counties” of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery. The population in Southeastern Pennsylvania is extremely high, so it was difficult to draw compact districts and keep communities of interest together.

Overall, I believe that I created a very fair congressional district map of Pennsylvania. It is certainly not gerrymandered, and it is not influenced by politics in any way. The map allows each person’s vote to count equally, communities of interest are kept in the same districts, and the district shapes are not obscure. Elections would be much fairer if state legislators drew maps like mine.