Elise Kait (The Baldwin School, Montgomery County) - Honorable Mention, Eastern Youth

About Elise: Elise is a Senior at The Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa. She was introduced to redistricting and gerrymandering by her history teacher, Dr. Athan Biss who is also a DTL winner. When she isn't mapping, Elise enjoys playing volleyball, hiking at state parks, cooking, and working on cars.

Judges' Statement

Elise's map was a tough omission from the Top-2 podium. Her personal statement is well worth the read. It makes a steller connection to gerrymandering and its impact on local issues, not just national. Oh, and she also set a DTL record for the lowest population equivalence score ever. With a difference of only 99 people between her largest and smallest districts (which is insanely difficult to do when the mapping platform only goes to the census tract level), Elise set a new benchmark. 

Personal Statement

I was first introduced to the concept of gerrymandering by my history teacher, Dr. Athan Biss, who happens to also be a Draw the Lines Map Contest winner. My first thought was ‘who cares?’ I mean I’m only 17 - I can’t vote and most congressional legislation doesn’t directly affect me, or so I thought.

Around the same time I began my journey into the world of fighting gerrymandering, I also began attending my community’s civic association meetings over which my father presided. One of the pressing issues was corruption within the Lower Merion School District where commissioners overtaxed citizens to an unconstitutional degree and were squirreling the cash in order to avoid putting a new-school project up for a vote. If they had a high enough percent of the money needed, they wouldn’t be required to have a referendum for the large capital project, and thus no need for a vote. Our civic meetings often had a large turnout and high participation. I learned two things from this: the importance of local issues to the people in my community and the disastrous results of a noncompetitive election. Regarding the latter of the two, the township is over ⅔ one party, and thus the same corrupt politicians were elected term after term to breed more corruption.

While a township election is much smaller in scale than a congressional one, the principal is the same: unfair elections perpetuate corruption regardless of scale. At this point, I realized the significance of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and set out to create my first map.

I decided that my main focus would be population equivalence. I’m no geography whiz and I know very little about the various cultural groups in PA. One thing I am good with, however, is numbers. Furthermore, I saw population equivalence as important because equal representation for each voter is strictly outlined in the constitution. While competitiveness and compactness are equally important in my opinion, I wanted to focus this map on achieving the lowest population equivalence ever recorded.

To do this, I devised a system of crunching numbers to ‘Slay the Dragon’. I endlessly swapped counties between districts to lower the population equivalence bit by bit, trying to get each district as close to the magic number (747,199) as possible. By the time I got to 175, I thought that was as good as it could get and set my map to the side while I worked on others. Later on however, I realized that I could do better if I sharpened my strategy and learned some patience. While it took quite some time, I eventually got the number down to 164 and decided to end things there. Unfortunately, in order to achieve such a low value, I had to give up many other goals such as a strong compactness and limited municipality splits.