Nicholas combined a compelling personal statement with an extensive amount of research to create his state championship map. He wisely noted that a perfect map isn't possible. But with one of the top population equivalence scores and a very strong combination of other metrics, Nicholas created a fantastic map. He went the extra mile with outreach as well, including a creative use of social media to get feedback on his map. Fantastic entry, Nicholas!
Esteemed author Will Durant once laid the claim that “A great civilization is not conquered from without before it destroys itself from within.” I have to agree with him. We are in the midst of an internal crisis. The centrifugal forces of our political divide only seem to grow stronger with each day. At the forefront of this divide, which now separates us as Americans, is public enemy number one: Gerrymandering. It is my goal that, in coalition with Draw The Lines, we are able to eliminate this enemy so that we the people can enjoy a stronger and more united commonwealth.
When I first began my map, research was my top priority. To combat gerrymandering, it is vital to understand it’s key attributes: What is it, and what are its effects? To answer these two questions I jumped to Google and typed in “greatest threat to democracy gerrymandering”. Within 0.34 seconds, I was bombarded with nearly six hundred thousand results. The Hill, Washington Post, NPR, Fox, CBS, Vox, BBC, The guardian, CNN, and The New York Post. Every news outlet had articles. And interestingly, they all said at least one thing in common: Gerrymandering is a danger to the values of our nation. To see all the major news outlets in agreement was surprising. However, it prompted another question. If we all recognize the problem, why has it not been fixed?
After peer discussion and further investigation into this dilemma, I devised an answer. The current gerrymandered institutions have created a cycle which continually benefits the party in power. This cycle is difficult to break and so requires strong-minded individuals and coordinated groups if change is to be brought about. Progress is not instantaneous; it is a slow, up-hill battle.Though it is not easy, it is a battle we have won before and will win again in our quest for a better democracy.
Draw The Lines provided me with the opportunity to participate in this battle. So from the moment I launched District Builder, I was enthralled by the creation of my map. I like to think of myself as a perfectionist. I soon learned that “perfect” wasn’t possible in this scenario. Because we all have differing values, the “best map” is subjective to each viewer. Despite this, I couldn’t help but strive for perfection and hope to end somewhere nearby.
I laid out my valued metrics: Compactness, Competitiveness, Minority Representation, Equal Population, Communities of interest, and Contiguity. I tried to incorporate them all. However, if I were to emphasize three as the most influential, they would be Compactness, Competitiveness, and Equal Population which I will further explain soon. But first, you may have noticed my omission of county lines in my values. Why? Though I tried to respect them when possible, County lines, which were drawn long ago and without much respect towards spatial identity, often impaired my goal of equal population. Hence, I felt that each citizen getting an equal say was much more imperative than these boundaries.
Challenges arose in my journey for competitiveness. The district builder software used political data from the 2016 election which I realized wasn’t entirely representative of current voter composition of Pennsylvania. So, to compensate for this, I drew many of the lines with voter trends in mind to help preserve relevant districts for the next ten years. In addition to this, I employed compact districting to forge parcels which stretched from metropolitan cores and out into the less urbanized areas. I felt that in doing this, I was working to dissolve the urban-rural divide which plagues our state. Because when more districts are competitive, our elected representatives work harder for compromise and everyone's general appeasement.
Throughout my map, I also utilized compactness to maintain groups of interest. In one instance, this coincided with the creation of two districts in Philadelphia which provide minorities the opportunity for representation. It is paramount that our democracy represents everyone. These two districts are fundamental to upholding that standard and to unwinding the remaining racist fibers which cling to our nation’s fabric.
Finally, equal population was my favorite benchmark. It was an objective metric which I could perfect. I worked tirelessly to balance each district down to the person. My population equivalence is 1. It’s impossible to make it any more equal. It is my hope that this perfection serves as a statement. A statement which says that we are all equal, that we are not just numbers, and that we all matter.
After I completed the creation of my map, I set my eyes on generating feedback and dialogue. I presented my map to various administrators at my school but more substantially I utilized social media to garner even more attention. I used Instagram's poll feature to collect opinions and then reworked aspects of my map accordingly. With over 500 views, I’d like to think I was able to provoke the minds of many in my community. In my outreach, I also made sure to attain testimonies from people on both sides of the Isle: Republicans, Democrats, and even independents. Bipartisanship is key to a productive nation and in this case a fair map.
In the end, my map grew to be more than just districts and lines. It grew to be part of a movement. It taught me our nation can do better. And in that journey to do better, it inspired me… Because we the people of the United States can and will form a more perfect union. As Americans, we need to uphold our democracy to the highest standards. We need to never settle for less than perfection. We have the tools to be the best. Now let’s use them.