Mark Puthenpurayil (Fox Chapel HS, Allegheny County) - Honorable Mention, West Youth

About Mark: I am an 18-year-old hopeful born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA who is fresh out of high school and heading to Penn State to study chemistry or some other science. I have always been firmly devoted to my intellectual pursuits and wish to leave a positive impact on as much of what I encounter in life as I can.

Judges' Statement

Mark did a nice job on his competitive and compactness scores, his two main goals. He consulted family and Reddit, which was quite clever. The overall appearance of the map cause some double-takes, but he had the highest competitive district score in the division.

Personal Statement

I came to this issue of redistricting originally with it as a school project, but it quickly became an important personal project to me as well as I realized just how big an impact redistricting has, especially after such a partisan and divisive election as we have just had. After talking with family and looking over online forums like reddit, it seemed that the biggest concern in this partisan era that is only getting more and more partisan was competitive elections, with a secondary concern being compact districts with constituents in similar situations.

Gerrymandering is along the same moral gray area as affirmative action. It’s trying to make up for a problem that has occurred and is continuing to occur at later stages of the entire process of life that it affects rather than just trying to solve the problem at its source. If we want equality, specifically in voting in this case, we cannot find it by rigging the system just enough in favor of the other side that it equals out with how much it is already rigged for the other side, we must eliminate the rigging entirely from its source, which is mainly a lack of equal and adequate education. That being said, I cannot accomplish those idealistic goals by simply redistricting Pennsylvania. I must settle for making each vote count as much as possible only by grouping specific sections of people.

The only reason any single vote has any power is that every single vote can be changed; nothing is given. If there were to be a group making up 50% or more of the vote in a district that agreed to vote for the same candidate, not even necessarily given who that candidate may be, then the power of every other vote in that district would become void, and the power in every vote of that group would have power equal to that of the group’s whole, even if some others not part of the group vote for the same candidate. The same shift of power in voters can and does happen at smaller magnitudes when smaller groups of voters are formed. There have been many theories and claims about how these groups may be easily identified, but only two things can be said for sure: race in now way guarantees votes with other members of the same race, and political parties will always have some not insignificant proportion voting solely on party lines. For these reasons, I abstained from racial gerrymandering of any kind, and attempted to make districts where neither party would have over half the population registered for them, though to keep the map compact and cohesive, the latter was not always possible.

Through all of this, compactness has to be kept in mind. Compactness is a virtue of districts not only because it makes the maps more visually pleasing but also because the proximity of peoples makes it more likely that they share beliefs and lifestyles, making it significantly easier for district representatives to act to try to please all his or her constituents. In more densely populated areas, though, the compactness score can be low even without compromising the geographical proximity that allows representatives to work for all his or her constituents while not having to ignore the interests of others.