Jesse Stowell photo

About Jesse: I live in the great city of Harrisburg with my wife Charity. I enjoy board games, coffee, making fun of our cats, and exploring new places. I serve as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Central PA.

Judges' Statement

Our judges loved both of Jesse's House and Senate entries. See his statewide 1st place-winning map for further comments. 

Personal Statement

My primary goal is to bring awareness of systemic racism that exists in mapping districts. PA's population is 18% people of color. Yet the House map only has 11% Majority-Minority districts (23 total). Even if this is an unintentional "colorblind" approach, it favors white voters.

Because 18% of PA's population is non-white, I hoped to create 18% Minority-Majority districts. l got close (17% in House), increasing current Minority-Majority districts from 23 to 35 (2 of these, in NE Philly and Norristown, hit a 50% split between white and minority populations). In regions where minority-majority districts were not possible, I aimed to create districts where minorities held the largest percentage possible, while keeping districts at least somewhat compact and close to equal population. This approach led to 5 districts with minority populations between 40-49% (49%, two at 47%, 45% and 40%). My strategy instead was to see how many districts I could get close to 50% ethnic minorities, so white voters do not hold all the voting power.

For comparison, the current House divides non-white Pennsylvanians so that there are only 2 districts with minority populations in the forty-percentile range (49.7% and 40.4%), but 6 districts at 33-39%.

Overall, my districts are more compact than the current ones. In the current House, there are 58 districts with Polsby-Popper ratings under 20%. My map improves this discrepancy 8-fold, with only 7 districts under 20%. But I still have a few weird shapes - I believe these shapes were needed to combat historic discrimination. Unlike gerrymandering, the point of my maps is not for a particular political party to gain victory: the point is for non-white populations to wield political influence that has been taken. PA, like most of the US, forced non-whites to live in certain areas for much of its history. (For example, redlining and lack of access to FMHA loans established areas where non-whites could not live based on ethnic heritage.) To combat this geographic disenfranchisement, I looked for where I could string together several non-white-majority areas into single districts. This combining of communities could give non-white voters a larger voice in choosing their candidates. The most obvious example of this is my District 128 in the Poconos, which looks like a sideways ship anchor. At only 11% on the Polsby-Popper rating, it's my least compact district, but still more compact than 7 current House districts! And the payoff is minority representation of 47%.

I engaged others in the mapping process by sending a survey for feedback through Instagram, Facebook, and email: A few friends re-posted the survey and passed it on to others. While no one gave advice on mapping, I did receive a lot of encouragement.

While I worked primarily on de-centering white identity as giving de facto power within districts, the fact that I grouped all other ethnicities as "non-white" isn't helpful long-term, since, of course, not being white is not an ethnicity. I grouped people of color because our current political maps give too much power to white voters. I hope for approaches in the future that continue to consider the ethnic makeup of PA more carefully.