It was excruciating trying to pick a favorite between Maddy’s entry and that of her Baldwin School classmate Isabelle Kaufmann. Maddy’s work is richly deserving of being honored. Her handsome map has fine metrics. It is so, so hard to score as well as she did simultaneously in compactness, competitiveness and population equivalence. Her excellent essay blends the personal with the analytical. Her use of social media to inform her efforts and her long roster of endorsers speak to exemplary civic engagement.
(Maddy was named 2nd place in the Eastern Youth division, but with a different judging panel in the statewide round, emerged as our champion.)
As a blissfully ignorant eighth grader, I always believed my 45-minute social studies classes equipped me with all the knowledge I would require to cast a meaningful vote during election season when my time came.
Now as a newly registered, soon-to-be first time voter, I find it a bit terrifying that until this year I was completely oblivious to the threat partisan gerrymandering has posed to our country’s democracy. For years I relied on my blind faith in the concept of equal representation, only to be stunned by the harsh reality that the voices of Pennsylvania’s voting population have been watered down by a corrupt political strategy.
After this realization, my involvement in this competition had one overarching goal: to create a map that would reassure Pennsylvania voters that, when they take to the polling booths, their voices matter.
As I selected my intended values for my map, I decided to utilize one of the most resourceful platforms for communication and collaboration today: social media. My first poll informed me that out of almost 50 followers, the majority wished to see competitiveness, compactness, and equal population reflected in a congressional district map of Pennsylvania.
That each of these values works to offset the others posed a daunting task, but I ultimately agreed with the results of this poll and challenged myself to make it all work. I set out to create districts that gave both Democratic and Republican voters an equal and fair voice, avoided unreasonable boundaries and shapes, as well as had relatively equal populations to ensure that each region carried the same weight.
To my surprise, the social media responses I did not receive ended up speaking louder than those I did. In each of the three gerrymandering-related polls I uploaded, over 600 people viewed the posts with only about 50 of them actually voting. This disheartening statistic brought me to one conclusion: An overwhelming majority of teenagers have been left in the dark when it comes to political issues such as gerrymandering, and are disinclined to participate in the solutions as a result.
This was the moment when Draw the Lines became more than just a competition to me; it became a learning resource to share with my social media followers, allowing me to spark more lively and informed discussions regarding redistricting. I then returned to my map with the motivation I needed to fulfill my intended values, creating tangible evidence that solutions to political issues like gerrymandering are more achievable than most young people would think.
The most difficult challenge I faced while creating my map was accepting the inevitability of creating an imperfect one. This reality appeared within my 12th District, where I was only able to create a competitive district by sacrificing its compactness score.
Additionally, I had to split a significant number of counties in order to both increase the number of competitive districts throughout my map, as well as lower the population equivalence.
My solution to this problem was simply to learn to be content with the fact that no congressional district map will ever be able to fulfill every single value — at least for now. In a perfect world, I could create a compact map with 17 competitive districts and a flawless population equivalence while protecting every county line and community of interest. However, I believe the challenge of imperfection allows us to adapt, grow, and learn more than we ever could if we had no conflicts to overcome at all.
In a way, I would almost consider myself grateful for gerrymandering. I believe it has provided me, as well as so many other young people, with a spark to restore our country’s faith in democracy on our own, despite the challenges we face along the way. I am thankful for Draw the Lines for creating a platform for us to do so.