About Michael D. Smith: I am a math teacher at Lycoming College in Williamsport. I am known for my Fun Friday classroom activities and other active learning experiences that challenge my students to step out of their comfort zones. I first became interested in the political math of Pennsylvania when watching the 2016 election returns. I hope to teach a first year seminar on the math of gerrymandering during the 2021 redistricting efforts, where I will challenge my students to draw the lines as a final project.

Judges' statement

We loved Michael’s presentation and considered his personal statement among the best we read. We were particularly impressed that he intentionally built on the existing congressional map and acknowledged the benefits and importance of continuity. His map also has the virtues of being clean and simple. Michael’s essay was well written and thorough in explaining his goals. Michael also thanked DTL for holding the contest and said he had fun mapping, which was one of our goals. We appreciate the kind words.

Endorsements: 1

Personal statement

My goals in completing this map were sixfold:

1) To use the minimal number of county splits.  For a 17-district map, this is normally 16 splits, but by finding out that Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Lawrence and Beaver counties together hit the target population, I was able to do this with 15 splits (Philadelphia and Berks twice, and Chester, Lancaster, Montgomery, Allegheny, Wayne, Lycoming, Centre, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland and Monroe each once).

2) To create a map that was fair to both parties, keeping in mind that PA is a left-tilting swing state.  This was hard to do because Philadelphia is a humongous vote sink for Democrats.  However, by looking only at party registration, I have created eight competitive districts, four safe GOP districts and five safe Democratic districts.  If we take into account that Southwest and Northeast PA have moved to the right and the inner suburbs of Philadelphia have moved to the left, I would posit that in the current political climate, districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are safely Republican, districts 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 are safely Democratic, and districts 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 are competitive, with 6, 7, and 8 leaning right, 9, 11, and 12 leaning left, and 10 being dead even.  This was perfect partisan balance.

3) To promote competitive districts and especially to not protect incumbents whenever reasonable and apply this consistently to both parties.  Republicans Mike Kelly, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Scott Perry find themselves in competitive districts that have moved to the left, and Democrats Matt Cartwright, Madeline Dean, and Chrissy Houlahan find themselves in competitive districts that have moved to the right from the Supreme Court's plan.

4) To be fair to the mid-sized cities (i.e., smaller than Philly and Pitt) that find themselves surrounded by rural, conservative areas, leaving themselves easy to get outvoted and ignored.  For instance, Erie, Allentown, Bethlehem, Scranton, Wilkes Barre, Harrisburg, State College, Lancaster and Reading are all left intact, and are all placed in competitive districts, by current standards.  (Scranton and Wilkes Barre are in a district where registered Democrats have the advantage, but the region voted for Trump in 2016 and Wolf in 2018 so I will call it competitive).  The goal was to put no city that Clinton won in a safely Republican district.  I could not do this for York or Johnstown without introducing unnecessary county splits or ridiculous looking lines, but could do this for the rest of the mid-sized cities.

5) Similarly, put no county that Trump won entirely within a safely Democratic district.  If you accept that District 8 is competitive (Trump and Wolf won it), I have achieved this goal.  Finally, put each swing county, as defined as a Trump/Wolf county (Erie, Berks, Northampton, Luzerne, Beaver, Cumberland) in a competitive district.

6) Preserve the two majority/minority districts around Philadelphia and have a map that is more compact and more population equivalent than your rendering of the PA Supreme Court design.  While the actual PA Supreme Court map had a population equivalence of 1, this is unachievable without being able to split census tracts; however, my map is both more compact and had a smaller population equivalence than your rendering of the PA Supreme Court map.

The one potentially controversial thing I did was split Pittsburgh among districts 14 and 15.  I considered three possible ways to deal with Allegheny County: either split Pittsburgh, have one district (including Pitt) entirely within Allegheny County, and the second district include about 475,000 people from Allegheny county and the rest from elsewhere, or split Allegheny county twice, having the northern 240,000 in one district, Pitt and its inner suburbs in a second full district, and the southern 240,000 in a third district (as done in 2013 to 2018).  The second option, which the PA Supreme Court did, left the Allegheny County districts noncompact, as Pitt was the outlying municipality.  The third option would cause Allegheny County, where Democrats have a strong majority, to have two of its three congresspeople be Republicans, so I decided to accept splitting Pittsburgh as the best of several not great options.