Ryan, our state champion in higher education for a congressional map in our prior contest, stepped up to a new challenge this time and hit the ball waaaaay out of the park. Even compared to an impressive field of State Senate maps, his entry stood out for top-notch metrics, a superb essay and tons of engagement, including many endorsements. His best-in-class compactness score was particularly impressive, as was his willingness to focus on a different set of goals from his earlier winning map. We also appreciated Ryan’s eagerness to share what he’d learned doing the map with classmates at Gannon University.
Gerrymandering is an extremely urgent issue facing Americans today. As the United States is quickly becoming more polarized, gerrymandering is a problem in which voters of all political stances should be able to unite against. Whether a person is a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, it is important that all people of the U.S.A. are equally represented. An elected official should best represent those who elected him/her. Unfortunately, gerrymandering creates a system in which elected officials choose their voters, not the other way around. Additionally, gerrymandering adds to the divisiveness of the country. When a district is gerrymandered to favor a specific party, an incumbent focuses more on igniting and catering their own base rather than trying to represent the entirety of the district.
In a previous mapping competition, I created a U.S. Congressional map in which I prioritized competitiveness above all other values. Although I still believe a competitive map to be one of the most important attributes, I did not draw my state legislative maps focusing on competitiveness. Members of the U.S. House are meant to represent their district, but also all of Pennsylvania on issues affecting the entire nation. Members of the state House and state Senate represent a smaller, more localized area of Pennsylvania than members of the U.S. House. This reasoning partially led me towards valuing population equivalence, compactness, and minimizing county/district splitting instead of competitiveness. It was my goal to create compact districts that had almost exactly the same population and split the least amount of counties as possible.
Pennsylvania has a long history of district maps looking extremely gerrymandered. Along with being outright unfair, these maps have a lot of negative impacts that directly affect the people who live within the districts. As a voter, it is hard to vote and try to make a difference if you know your district is so gerrymandered that your vote won’t make a difference. This completely works against our democracy, where every person should have a fair say. I think it’s time that Pennsylvania’s legislative districts aren’t only fair, but also look fair to a voter. By creating maps that are compact, minimize splits, and contain equal populations, I believe we can both protect our democracy as well as finally eliminate the gerrymandering stigma. It is great for maps to be competitive, but the state legislative districts are so much smaller, that by prioritizing competitiveness, districts will have to be finessed and rearranged so much that they will seem just as gerrymandered.
With all of these thoughts in mind. the DRA mapping app allowed me to look at a large variety of statistics. As a math major, I found it very helpful in creating what I believe to be some of my best maps. The state Senate map was definitely a challenge, but after many hours of calculating numbers with trial and error, I was able to produce a map with very great population equivalence. The state Senate map is required to have a population deviation of +/-5% than the target population of 254,048 people. The largest population deviation for my map was only 0.15%, which is just 376 people off the target population. Compactness was my secondary goal, which can be difficult to maintain while keeping an equal population. This requires creating compact districts with a small perimeter with respect to the area of the district while keeping the population almost equal. In the end, I was able to produce a 46.42% Reock score and a 42.96% Polsby-Popper score, which are both very respectable scores. My final goal was to minimize county splitting. My map contained 59 county splits, which is even lower than I was hoping, as I only tried to minimize splits if it was possible while maintaining population equivalence and maximizing compactness. Finally, I think my map passes the eye test, which I believe is extremely important. I think a map that is both fair and looks fair is a step in the right direction towards fighting gerrymandering.
After completing my map, I also shared the map with many of my fellow map majors at Gannon. I enjoyed explaining some of the mathematical terms associated with the map, especially compactness measured by the Reock and Polsby-Popper scores.