Compactness was Adam's number one goal and he achieved it. Wonderful map. He handled the challenges presented by the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions in elegant, interesting ways. His essay made clear what he was trying to accomplish and how he went about it. Very thoughtful.
This map is an effort to create congressional districts in PA emphasizing fairness and democratic values. The following values were prioritized (in order of most importance): contiguity, equal population, compactness, minority representation, communities of interest, jurisdictional splits.
Contiguity and equal population are so obviously central to democratic values that I felt they must be the highest priorities. Obviously, any district that is not contiguous cannot or should not be valid, and creating districts with as equal populations as possible is fundamental to the proportional nature of congressional districts. Contiguity can be achieved without any major sacrifices to other values. An emphasis on equal population did mean that naturally several counties would have to be split, but this was basically unavoidable.
From there, balancing the other values gets a lot trickier! The emphasis on compactness did have a heavy cost on the aim of avoiding further jurisdictional splits at the county level. Although I initially mapped the districts with the intent of keeping as many counties intact as possible, I was not satisfied with the results. The strange shapes of our counties meant the districts themselves were still very oddly shaped and not especially compact. Some counties would invariably have to be split for population reasons, so having counties split to retain compactness seemed to make sense as well. I began to change the map with an aim to create as compact districts as I could, despite county boundaries.
Minority representation came next in order of importance, because with the history of voter suppression targeting minorities and especially African-Americans, this is a factor of vital importance.
And with the recent Supreme Court decision against racial gerrymandering in North Carolina, it is clear that only a map which did not unjustly deny minorities their due influence in the political process could be considered constitutional. After making the map on the basis of compactness, I made sure that there were two districts which should have a majority of black residents, as this is proportional to the approximately 11 percent black population of the state. Fortunately, this was achieved naturally by the compact districts I created. Other minorities make up such a small percentage that they would not have a majority in a single district, but I made an effort to ensure that large clusters of other minorities were not divided when possible, such as the large hispanic community in the Allentown and Bethlehem area.
I also made an effort when making the map to not divide communities of interest when possible. Unfortunately, both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are so large that division had to occur, so I tried to divide them along geographical lines and communities of interest. Pittsburgh gets divided largely by the river and the “three rivers” identiy becomes three districts. Philly gets divided along cultural and geographical boundaries. Northeast Philly joins the Northeast suburbs because of its similar (semi-suburban) density. North, South, and West Philly (and their surrounding areas) all get roughly divided into separate districts. An effort was made to keep most other larger cities and towns across the state undivided across districts.
The following values had no priority or were actively avoided: competitive elections and party advantage. I believe that creating district maps with the aim of ensuring elections are competitive or providing a party advantage does a disservice to democracy.
Although competitiveness in elections is indeed important, district mapping is not the arena in which this should take place. Attempts to maximize the amount of competitive districts will naturally run afoul of compactness and minority representation, and at its worst, seems like a form of gerrymandering. For example, to make Philadelphia area districts competitive would mean undermining the political will of the non-white majority population and vastly democratic preference of the voters. Certain areas of the state simply are far more conservative or far more progressive in their voting tendencies, and that should not be interfered with. Ranked choice voting reforms could make all elections potentially competitive across multiple parties without interference of any kind in the realm of district mapping.
Providing a party advantage was not only not prioritized at all, an effort was made to make sure that the districts that were created did not inadvertently provide a political advantage to either of the two main parties. The initial mapping was done blind to political affiliations, and afterwards, a check was made to ensure no party had far greater registered members proportionally to the amount of registered Democrats and Republicans in the state.
I believe this map does an excellent job of adhering to the values I laid out, and I believe strongly in the reasoning for these values and their overall importance to our democracy. I hope others will feel the same way.