Ryan Cedzo (Gannon University) - 1st Place, Statewide Higher Ed

About Ryan: I was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. As a native Pennsylvanian, I have witnessed gerrymandering throughout the state and even more specifically in the city of Erie, which was split into two districts for much of my lifetime. I will be graduating from Gannon University this spring with a degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science. After graduation, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Economics where I hope to research and solve many other problems in our society. When I'm not busy studying, I love to play baseball and juggle. I would also like to give a shout-out to my Math Modeling professor, Dr. Caulfield, who is the reason for my submission in the competition. Let's slay gerrymandering!

Judges' statement

We were impressed that Ryan met all of his stated goals and was able to get 13 competitive districts in a map that was “not crazy.”  His population equivalence was very strong, and his map’s compactness was excellent. Ryan’s essay set his submission apart with its clear explanation of the tradeoffs required between competitive elections and compactness, given Pennsylvania’s geography and demographics. We also agreed with Ryan’s sentiment that “one of the worst feelings for voters is the sense that their votes don’t matter.”

Personal statement

Gerrymandering has been a constant problem for our democracy since the early 1800s. A democracy should be structured to give a fair share of representation to the entire population. If the district lines are altered in such a way that population is unequally represented, then this action would be a direct threat to our democracy. Over the years, a candidate's platform has become decreasingly important to winning a seat in Congress compared to the partisanship of the district he/she is trying to represent. This growing inequality and partisan loyalty affect every member of our country, including myself.

One of the worst feelings for a voter is the sense that one's vote doesn't matter. This is especially true in non-competitive districts where a certain politically affiliated candidate is a sure shot to win an election. For all the voters from a minority party in a non-competitive district, democracy has been stolen. In a country where each person's vote is supposed to have an equal representation, their voice is never heard. Ideally, each district would be drawn so that it is perfectly competitive, giving each individual vote as much weight as possible. Unfortunately, I found the process of drawing a map to be as competitive as possible to be much easier said than done. I will later explain the problems I encountered in my attempt to draw my map.

After identifying partisan gerrymandering as the problem, my solution was to draw the district lines in such a way that party allegiance would be a minimal factor in determining an elected official. Therefore, competitiveness of a district was the top priority for me when creating my map. If a district contains an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, then partisanship would cease to be a problem. The platform of the individual candidates would become the primary driver towards candidacy. This way, the best candidate would win, not the candidate with the most voters that identify with his/her party.

Other minor priorities I considered while drawing the map lines were population equivalence and compactness. These were minor concerns, so they were only considered within the confines of keeping a district competitive.

With competitiveness as a primary concern, my strategy towards creating my map began with roughly creating the 17 districts considering which areas of Pennsylvania consisted of majority Democrat or Republican. Once my 17 districts were drawn, the long process of slightly modifying districts and checking their overall competitiveness took place.

Some districts were much easier to make competitive than others. I found the most problem creating a competitive district around the large cities. Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh consist largely of Democratic voters. The density at which these voters reside  makes it hard to create competitive districts around them.

In order to make a competitive district around big cities, I was required to "snake" a lot of the districts, which really hurt compactness. Even though compactness was only a minor concern, I did not believe the tradeoff of slightly more competitive districts to losing a majority of its compactness was worth it.

Instead, I decided in a few districts that it was too difficult to make them competitive without sacrificing other factors greatly. In my own personal opinion, competitiveness should almost be the only factor in deciding a map, as it and population equivalence are the ones that insures an equal representation of the voter population.

At first, I did not consider compactness at all, but after consulting opinions on the drawthelinespa.org website, I learned that compactness, as well as other factors can also be just as important. I still chose competitiveness to be my main concern, but I ended up closely watching the other factors to not negatively alter them too much. In the end, I was able to create 13 of 17 districts to be competitive.