A well-rounded map combined with a nice personal statement were enough to earn Jessica an HM shout-out.
Before beginning the map, I gathered background information about gerrymandering and the importance of redistricting to ensure fair elections. This included watching informational videos and reading articles about gerrymandering and redistricting, as well as talking to my family members about the issues. I learned that gerrymandering could have very dangerous consequences including, but not limited to, “locked in” results, incumbent bias, and greater chance for corruption, which is why it is imperative that redistricting occur to try and avoid any of those things from happening. Through my research and conversations with family, I learned about the tangible example of just how gerrymandering can affect election results as evidenced by the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp.
After learning more about the process and values that go into redistricting, I decided to prioritize having equal population, continuity, and compactness when drawing my map. Equal population was important to me because the principle “one person, one vote” is fundamental to our election process. All of my districts are within the guidelines, and most of them are within a few hundred of the exact number. Continuity was also important to me because I thought all the districts should be connected, as opposed to what happens with gerrymandering where certain geographical areas are “cherry picked” to be part of a district. This is done to give one party an unfair advantage, not otherwise dictated by geographic population, and often results in unusual shapes such as the “goofy kicking Donald Duck” shape. I also decided that compactness was important because I wanted the districts as close as possible and for the most part they were relatively “compact.” My highest compact district was number 16, which had over a 50% compactness.
In forming my districts, I also tried to be aware of the issue of minority representation; however, this proved to be problematic in a majority of the suburban and rural counties, which seemed to be overwhelmingly white with very low percentages of people of color. It was easier to create more representative districts in areas near cities, such as Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, where there was a higher minority population. Districts 16 and 17, both of which encompass parts of Philadelphia, are my most diverse districts, with people of color accounting for over half of the population in each district. I chose not to focus on values such as incumbent protection, party advantage, and split counties because I viewed the first two as biased and the latter as unimportant.
The two biggest challenges I faced when creating the map were being unfamiliar with the districting process and being unfamiliar with the “make up” of Pennsylvania. Before researching this project, I was unfamiliar with the redistricting process and often felt unsure as to whether I was completing the process correctly. To overcome this uncertainty, I tried to learn more about redistricting and tried to apply what I learned to creating my map. Before beginning this project, I also did not realize how important it is to be familiar with an area when drawing redistricting lines. I am not from Pennsylvania, and the only part of Pennsylvania that I am familiar with is Philadelphia. I quickly realized how difficult it is to effectively divide counties and form districts knowing nothing about the areas, which also made me realize how important it is that people charged with redistricting be familiar with the area. To overcome this problem, I discussed my map with family who live in Pennsylvania, and they tried to assist me and familiarize me with some of the areas outside Philadelphia. While this was a difficult and unfamiliar task for me, I did my best to create 17 fair and equal districts free of gerrymandering that would ensure a fair election rather a predetermined outcome to an election.