Nathaniel Ropski, 2nd Place and 2 Honorable Mentions, Adult-West

About Nathaniel Ropski: I am once again excited and humbled to be taking part in another Draw the Lines competition! I currently work as an Admissions Counselor and adjunct instructor in political science at Gannon University in Erie, PA. You can ask my co-workers, I really like making maps for my job, too. When not at work, I spend my free time outdoors, watching soccer/hockey, designing/playing board games, or tending to my young plants. I want to thank my family and my girlfriend for their constant support, as well as the folks at DTL for their continued efforts to “Slay the Gerrymander.”

Judges' statement (2nd place map)

This map from Nathaniel Ropski gave us a lot to think about and showed his concerted effort to improve on his goals over the course of several maps. He produced a pleasing map through a process that generated a good ongoing discussion and engagement with students.

We appreciated how he valued his students’ input and incorporated that into his map.  His 2nd and 4th districts were particularly impressive as he was able to minimize jurisdictional splits. The way he split up Pittsburgh did, however, give some of us pause.

2nd Place Map

Personal statement for 2nd-place map 

In the first Draw the Lines contest, my map prioritized three major criteria. To reiterate, they were: protecting communities of interest, creating competitive districts where appropriate, and improving upon the 2018 map already in effect. This time around, I followed the same schema, only instead opting to enhance my own previous map.

This new submission represents an improvement upon my previous one in all important aspects. It has 10 competitive districts vs. 9, 2 majority-minority vs. 1, a Polsby-Popper ratio of 42.5% vs. 39%, and a population equivalence of 1990 vs. 6253.

With this overall improvement in mind, I want to highlight a key change that I sought for this map: It does a better job of protecting communities of interest by splitting fewer counties between districts.

I noticed that many winners from the last contest (my map included) were frankly cavalier with how they split up counties between districts. In mine, Luzerne County fell victim the most, being split into 3 diluted parts that would likely lose representative power and cohesion. If I want to hold my map to the standard of what representative districts can and should be, I knew I had to focus on protecting not only cities or aesthetically appealing ratios, but also counties where people would not want to be split up amongso many districts.

This change of focus was buttressed by discussions I had with certain students in my Intro to Public Policy class. In the spirit of the collaborative nature of Draw the Lines, I wanted to hear what they thought about this tension of splitting up communities within counties. To a person, each agreed that they would not want their hometowns split, let alone their counties; something that actually happened to my city and county (Erie) after the 2010 maps were drawn.

I knew this had to be a central part of my new submission. It is probably best exemplified by the district with the worst compactness of the bunch (33.4%) and a high enough population to throw off my equivalence more than any other: District 4. It’s overpopulated and a bit ugly, but it is four complete counties, no splits at all. If that district is not representative of the interests and communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania, then I don't know what is. I believe that sentiment to be echoed in my map as a whole.   

 Judges' statement (1st Honorable Mention)

While this map is not aesthetically pleasing, it scored the highest metrics for  the least splits and highest competitive districts which skillfully met his specific goals and his acknowledgment of the importance of respecting county borders.

1st Honorable Mention Map

Personal statement for 1st honorable mention map

Boy, is this map ugly!

Weird lines, zig-zags, and enclaves abound. It practically looks gerrymandered. Why submit such an oddity? Simple: This map, despite its initial appearance, has a uniquely representative characteristic to it. It features the least amount of county jurisdictional splits that I could produce while still creating a semi-viable map.

Fully 60 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties remain fully intact in this submission. Counties are only split in instances of necessity (like Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Allegheny, which all have a population too large to house only one district) or in the Southeast where bordering counties average 400K+ populations and therefore could not be drawn without producing breaks.

Where splits do occur, they never take away representative power from a designated population. In other words, each larger county that gets cut into two pieces has at least one district centered around its major city.

What I would argue is more noteworthy, though, is the fact that 7 districts (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, and 10) across the state were produced with absolutely no county splits at all. No enclaves in Erie County cut off from the rest of their geographic constituency. No townships split from Luzerne County to produce a more competitive district in central PA. District 9 is distinctly NEPA in feel, districts 7 and 10 are wholly representative of South-Central PA. This map wants to keep those unique communities together as much as possible, even if it means sacrificing other metrics often deemed to be most important in the redistricting process.

This map won't get any accolades for compactness, for example. Most of the seven complete-county districts are Polsby-Popper abominations. That being said, they would probably do a much better job supporting the localized interests of their constituents, though.

And that's what I argue gets lost when we chop and cut counties up for the sake of a slightly higher Polsby-Popper or slightly closer population equivalence. What's more, over half of the competitive districts in this submission are complete-county districts. We can have fair and representative elections while keeping counties and regional interests intact.

In areas where I had to split up counties, I still did my best to find population equivalence, foster majority-minority districts and achieve compactness. In all, this actually produced a map that, despite the crazy shapes, better follows the overall political geography of Pennsylvania.

Counties look weird; so does this map.   

 Judges' statement (2nd Honorable Mention)

This map earned significant points for creativity with its use of area codes to determine district lines. This was a clever and meaningful way to define regional identity, one which no other mapper used.   His distinctive approach produced surprisingly clean and sensible districts.

2nd Honorable Mention

Personal statement for 2nd honorable mention map

What comes to mind when you read the numbers 412? What about 215 or 814? If you’re a Pennsylvanian, you probably associate those with our area codes. Pittsburgh is covered with 412 pride and Erie likes to think itself the leader of the 814 region.

These digits are more than just the first ones you see when glancing at a phone number, they often help distinguish our identities here and around the country. When trying to think of different ways to slice and cut the Pennsylvania electorate, I stumbled upon what I thought to be a fresh idea “Why not center our districts around area codes? We often split ourselves into groups based on things like sports, cities, and meaningless numbers, so why not try to make a map emulating that notion.”

The premise works well enough and forms at least one district per area code. For 814 in the North/West Central, we have districts 1, 9, and part of 11. For 724 in the West, we have districts 2 and 10. 412 forms the core Pittsburgh district (7). 717 follows South Central PA in districts 3, 12, and part of 11. 570 captures North Central and Northeast in districts 4 and 8. 484 in the Southwest forms districts 5, 13, 17, and parts of 6. Finally, 215 in Philadelphia creates 14, 15, 16, and some of 6. Together, each region is split by larger distinctions than just city or county lines. Instead, the distinct feel of 412 or 570 would be captured by each district, and each representative would hopefully prove an archetype of their region, or at least their slice of the region.

I thought that this map was worth submitting both for its novelty, but also for the fact that, without too much work, it made a solid map with the expected 2 majority-minority districts, a respectable 11 competitive districts, and a relatively average equivalence. Most of those numbers could likely be improved upon, and I’m sure they were by other mappers. However, I think I captured an interesting way of splitting the geography of the state that no other map (as far as I know) has used before. It may have a few jagged edges that hamper its compactness ratio, but most of those weird lines follow (to the best ability possible) the sometimes crazy or weird lines of the area codes of the state.