Ryan Ni (Whitehall HS, Lehigh County) - 2nd Place, Statewide Youth

Judges' Statement

Ryan had the lowest county split and population deviation combination of all of the entries in his division. He supplemented that with a strong personal statement where he applied feedback he had received from other people. Even though Ryan isn't a voter yet, he astutely points out that he will be soon and he deserves to vote on maps that are drawn fairly and transparently.

Personal Statement

Currently, I have no stake in the redistricting issue as I am younger than 18 years old and do not yet have the right to vote. However, it will not be long until I hit 18 years of age and cause the redistricting issue to be relevant to me. When that happens, I want the districts to be drawn fairly so my vote matters. The value I prioritized the most was an equal population, followed by county/municipal splits and communities of interest. Equal population was my top priority as unequal populations result in some people having votes with more weight than other people, which is unfair. There was a reason why the Supreme Court established “One Person, One Vote” through cases like Baker v. Carr and Wesberry v. Sanders. Just like the people who sued in those cases, I wanted an equal vote for everyone. The other two priorities I listed are essentially the same: I didn’t want to split up people from the “same place” away from each other. I wanted people to be able to have a sense of unity among their community and thus tried to keep them (districts and communities) from being split up, if possible (equal population takes precedence). My first draft of my redistricting map received criticism about its compactness (particularly about my original 6th district) and a certain major community of interest (Allentown) being split up. Compactness was not a priority of mine, but as the changes weren’t too difficult to make, I adjusted my 6th district to improve its compactness. I also made changes to the districts on Pennsylvania’s eastern side to contain Allentown within a single district. These changes improved my overall compactness by 4%. A challenge I encountered while drawing my map would be in equalizing the population. It was oftentimes difficult and very time consuming to pore over individual blocks to increase or decrease the population of a district to be within a single person of the target population while also accounting for communities of interest and keeping out of counties that the district wasn’t already in. To deal with this, some communities of interest had to be sacrificed (split) to keep the populations equal, although I managed to minimize county splits fairly well (only 17 splits). Overall, the general “solution” of this problem was simply time: eventually I would find blocks that would make the numbers work.