Michael Skros (Millersville Univ., Chester County) - Honorable Mention, PA Senate

Michael is a senior undergraduate student at Millersville University. He is pursuing degrees in Emergency Management & Geography with a minor in economics. Michael is a leader in the Millersville University Honors College, serves on the board of the MU International Association of Emergency Managers student chapter, and volunteers with the American Red Cross. In his free time, Michael enjoys reading, playing piano, and fighting to end gerrymandering!

Judges' Statement

Michael did a lot of work on his map, and that showed with an impressive job balancing trade-offs. He addressed the way that party advantage can impact the process. Several judges felt that he had one of the strongest maps overall on the metrics. His choices were well-justified in his statement, and he did a good job balancing them in his map.

Personal Statement

Fighting gerrymandering is pivotal to democracy because gerrymandering distorts the will of the voters. Gerrymandering often results in exceptionally partisan districts that elect highly partisan politicians who cater to the extremes of their party rather than the majority of constituents. As our partisan divisions seem to continuously grow, combating this harmful practice can serve as a starting point in rebuilding trust among citizens and elected officials. Fighting gerrymandering requires engaging individuals across the Commonwealth and the political spectrum. To engage others in the mapping process, I reached out to several college students who live throughout Pennsylvania. I found that each person varied significantly in the metrics they considered to be most important for mapping. Overall, most individuals agreed that equal population was a key metric. While individual rankings differed, the other three highly valued metrics appeared to be compactness, county splits, and proportionality (party advantage). Therefore, my priorities for this state senate map were compactness, county splits, and party advantage. While I did maintain a population deviation below 1% for each district, I did not include equal population in my top three metrics because ensuring near-zero deviation conflicts with the other metrics.

I chose compactness because compactness equals accessibility. It minimizes the distance between constituents and legislators. It allows legislators to serve their constituents and prevents sprawling districts that target specific groups of voters. The average district compactness score for this map is 43%.

My next priority was county splits. I used this metric because county lines are fixed. Therefore, it is a fairly unbiased method of determining district boundaries. In a process that involves vast amounts of subjectivity relating to where each line should be drawn, respecting existing county lines helps bring clarity and objectivity to the mapping process. While county lines do not inherently reflect community boundaries, I find these boundaries useful when mapping unfamiliar areas. Rather than arbitrarily drawing a line in an unfamiliar area, I can have some basis for my decision.

My final priority was party advantage. I used the election results provided in DistrictBuilder to ensure a degree of proportionality in election results. Since we elect officials to reflect our legislative priorities, I believe this is a salient and often overlooked metric. While geometric and geographical criteria are key to crafting fair maps, it is crucial to ensure that one party doesn’t inadvertently have a significant advantage. Although it is not gerrymandering since it is not intentional, ignoring election results when drawing a map can inadvertently result in the same political advantage and polarization. For this map, using election results from 2016 was perfect since the election outcome was nearly 50/50. Due to the political geography of Pennsylvania, Republicans typically have an advantage in state senate maps. This is illustrated in many senate maps drawn in previous competitions, especially maps with high equal population and compactness scores. My map contains 24 Democratic-leaning and 26 Republican-leaning districts with 15 competitive districts (Political Leaning < 10%).

The challenges I faced when drawing this map resulted from the tension between my three chosen metrics. County lines make it challenging to draw compact districts in rural areas with low populations. Furthermore, drawing a map to ensure one party does not have an advantage conflicted with the other two metrics. This is illustrated in southwestern Pennsylvania where I drew five slightly distorted democratic districts in Allegheny county rather than creating two or three compact Democratic-leaning districts. Similarly, I originally included Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into two separate Republican-leaning districts. To ensure fair party advantage, I opted to draw a slightly Democratic-leaning district that included Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. I believe these tradeoffs were worthwhile in pursuit of a balanced map.

After completing my map, I reached out to the individuals with who I engaged at the start of the mapping process. I received several endorsements from these peers. Hopefully, the 2021-2022 reapportionment process will also strive to engage Pennsylvania residents in this pivotal process.