Marisa Nowicki’s exceptional personal statement used her personal experiences deftly to deliver a strong argument for valuing compactness and contiguity in districts - and their importance in achieving effective governing and fair representation. Her goals were extremely well expressed through her mapping metrics and overall design.
I first learned about gerrymandering in middle school. My idealist, young self couldn’t fathom how it was legal. It seemed like rigging the game in your favor. Like most children, I valued fairness and was irritated by the idea of adults cheating. As I grew up, I still saw politics as a game of sorts. Newspapers were constantly reporting on “wins” and “loses.”
Most people seemed upset for a few days after a major loss, and then everything would go back to normal.
As an adult, I began to understand the more serious repercussions of gerrymandering. I paid close attention to the news and began to realize the countless ways local, state, and federal politics impacted my daily life. I knew it was essential that I had representatives in Congress who could advocate for me. To gain a better understanding of our political system, I applied to a five-month, full-time internship with Congress. I spent the final year of my undergraduate degree taking online courses, preparing for graduate school, and absorbing as much as I could about D. C. politics.
Ironically, I noticed the toll that gerrymandering took on those who supposedly benefit from the system. The congressman I worked for was bending over backwards — turning himself into a pretzel — to appease both the liberal slices of a major city and the conservative countryside three hours away. He was put in a position to be everything to everyone. To be fair, his balance was admirable, and he rarely looked fazed by it. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if our representatives could better advocate for their constituents if they had more compact districts.
For these reasons, I prioritized compactness and contiguity. I wanted communities to be represented by the same people, and representatives to focus on specific communities. That said, I also wanted to limit polarization. I recently went to a workshop with former congressman Jason Altmire, where I learned about the importance of competitive districts, and the various factors that can lead to polarization.
While it was not my top priority, I ensured there was adequate minority representation in each district. Moreover, I tried to find a comfortable balance between urban and rural areas. Most importantly, I prioritized equal population size above all else. Our system should be organized so that each person receives equal representation, and each voice adds to the political conversation.