Last fall’s first- and second-place regional honorees have swapped spots this time, with Jesse Stowell winning first prize for his elegant map that had us voting unanimously to declare him the regional champ. We were also impressed with Stowell’s introspective personal statement and his remarkable PowerPoint, which he used to garner 11 endorsements, which is in and of itself a commendable result. Prioritizing Communities of Interest, Jesse focused on the largest local populations, as defined by municipalities and census-designated places. He gave a wonderful summary of the many benefits he saw as flowing from his approach. We appreciated his discussion of the steps he took to avoid diluting the vote of minority citizens,. A very sophisticated approach. All of those points were taken up in great depth in his slide deck. What a fine, layered presentation. Who says that maps are too complicated for the average Pennsylvanian to draw at home?
Population Centers 2
I prioritized Communities of Interest: largest local populations, as defined by municipalities and census-designated places.
I began this map with the goal of anchoring districts in the largest population centers across the state. My purpose in doing so was to form a simple, straightforward method for determining districts that:
1. Could be repeated easily in the future,
2. Would be difficult to gerrymander extensively,
3. Would give minorities larger political influence (by not dividing the population centers where the majority of Pennsylvania' minorities live),
4. Would create equivalent populations across districts, and
5. Would maintain a logical shape and size for constituents and their representatives to connect with one another.
Districts are numbered according to their largest population (municipality or census-designated place). For example, District 15 indicates that the 14 previous districts have more populated places.
Although the current congressional map improved upon the 2010 gerrymander, my map, thanks to my method of anchoring districts in the state's greatest population centers and expanding them outward, improves by 1.2 percentage points on the current congressional map's average district compactness - even though that was not a goal I explicitly set for myself.
I aimed to keep together jurisdictions of over 20,000 (the top 31 most populated places in PA according to the 2010 U.S. Census), which act as centers of their regions' culture and roads. This strategy kept urban and suburban areas as the starting point for determining the first 15 districts, with suburban and rural areas forming an outer ring. In some cases, entire districts of densely populated suburbs were also created, such as districts 10, 13, and 14 around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
In PA, it is nearly impossible to have more than two majority-minority districts. So I also sought to maximize minority votes in as many districts as possible. Keeping urban centers united allowed for minority voting blocks to be more influential. On this map, in addition to two majority-minority districts, minorities account for over 25 percentof the population in two other districts, over 20 percent in another two, and over 16 percent in another four.
As district numbers increase, generally the districts become less compact and larger geographically. This was intentional - I did not prioritize compactness of districts in rural areas, instead allowing them to be spread over a wide area to uplift the concerns of rural communities, just as the earlier numbered districts would highlight concerns of urban and suburban communities. Districts 16 and 17 are comprised of almost entirely rural areas, each containing only 1 jurisdiction of over 20,000.
One challenge faced by my method of keeping urban areas together was a possible "packing" effect on cities: a higher percentage of Democrats could be concentrated into Democratic-leaning districts, which tend to be urban, than Republicans were in Republican-leaning districts, which tend to be rural.
However, I was surprised to see that rural District 17 is still the most competitive district on the map!
To combat packing I gave both urban and rural districts a large suburban fringe whenever possible, which made districts more competitive than they would have been otherwise. For example, in Philadelphia, where the city must be divided between at least three districts, I divided the city's population as evenly as I could among three districts, rather than pushing as much of the city as possible into two districts with a small remainder in a third. Then I incorporated surrounding suburbs into each of the Philadelphia districts. Despite this map not prioritizing competitive districts, it still manages to have eight.
Districts 4 and 14 are inspired by Team Bullseye's map from the previous DTL competition, which turned Pittsburgh's suburbsinto an encircling district. I decided to follow their example when I was determining the borders of District 4. So many large suburbs surround Pittsburgh that making an encircling district helped to keep population equivalence close while keeping the city intact. The encircling District 14 also prevented divisions in Allegheny County's 20,000+ suburbs of Bethel Park, Monroeville, Plum, Allison Park, and Murrysville - and kept the entire county of over 1.2 million in just 2 districts.
I went one step beyond Team Bullseye by making a third surrounding semi-circle in District 17. My goal in constructing District 17 was to keep it as close as possible to Districts 14 and 4, since Pittsburgh is the center of that entire region. Greater Philadelphia is divided similarly, with Districts 10 and 13 forming a border around the region.
Here's a link to the presentation I used to share my map, for both critiques and endorsements: https://tinyurl.com/dtl-stowell2