Wow. Just wow! As judges who’ve done several rounds of DTL contests, we’re here to tell you this batch of East Youth entries this time around was the strongest we’ve ever seen, leading to the toughest decisions we’ve had to make. It took an entry as fabulous as Isabelle’s to take top spot in the region. She had impressive social media outreach and a comprehensive personal statement that showed a strong grasp of how to draw conclusions from her metrics. And those metrics were solid across-the-board, with an eye-popping score for population equivalence. Yet, her essay ended on a winning and wise note of modesty and acceptance of imperfection.
After discussing my map with my family members and thinking about what was most important to me, I decided I wanted to focus primarily on population equivalence.
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of our democracy is that every vote counts and has equal importance. While researching and working on my map, I found that making each district in a state the same population is fundamental to this principle so there is no “vote dilution.”
I also learned that this principle of making all election districts the same population was not stated in court rulings until the 1960s, which surprised me because of how fundamental it seems. When districts did not have to be the same population, minorities living in heavily populated districts were often the ones who ended up having their voting power reduced, which makes this issue even more important.
To get more insight on my map and learn more about mapping and gerrymandering, I attended many sessions throughout the spring with some of my classmates and teachers who were also working on maps. I also attended a virtual meeting with the heads of the Draw the Lines organization. Through these meetings and the work I did on my own, I learned a lot about mapping and I was able to decide what was important to me in a map while also discussing with my peers what they found to be most important.
As I worked on my map, I spent many hours trying to make my population equivalence as low as possible and eventually was able to get to a population equivalence of 175. This was difficult to do and required a lot of patience and precision, but I also grew to enjoy this tedious work. Making my population equivalence so low did result in some districts having jagged looking edges, but the purpose of making these shapes was not to gerrymander, but instead to uphold the principle of equal population.
While my main goal was population equivalence, I also made sure that my map was not lacking in other ways. This included making sure all of my districts were contiguous, having two majority-minority districts, making nine of my districts competitive, and having a compactness score of 34.2 %, which is above the 2019 median compactness score. Along with nine of my districts being competitive, a few others were close to the 10% registration gap, making thirteen districts where the percentage of Democrats and the percentage of Republicans are within 14% of each other.
My map also had 56 county splits, which was equal to the median number of county splits for 2019.
I understand that no map will ever be perfect, which is the hardest part of this challenge. In order to focus on one goal, other important aspects of the map must be compromised. It also felt wrong to me to be dividing people into districts in parts of Pennsylvania where I don’t know much about the geography. I did learn a lot through this process, but I believe I still have a long way to go to create a map I would fully support.