Rylan Epstein & Grace Bath (Abington Heights HS, Lackawanna County) - Honorable Mention, Eastern Youth

About Rylan and Grace: We have been friends since third grade, and we met at church. We enjoy working together, and our best work is often a direct result of putting our minds together on a project such as this.

Judges' Statement

A worthwhile all-around entry, with minimal county splits (15) combined with decent scores across the rest of the board. 

Personal Statement

The definition of a “democracy” is well known as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state” (Oxford). In order to achieve this idealistic state of equal representation, wherein the “whole population” sets forth together to encourage the betterment of a government, equal representation is imperative (Oxford). However, when faced with challenges such as gerrymandering, which threatens the basis of a secure democracy, the definition could become clouded. After all, a democracy with deceptions and frauds is merely a facade with a sheer veil of hasty “equality” thrown atop.

When working together to create a new, gerrymander-less map for Pennsylvania, we set forth as two politically independent individuals. Determined to avoid the bias that only succeeds to divide, we chose to focus on two points: avoiding partisan seclusion, and allowing equal representation for all races. In light of recent events, we realized the two greatest threats to our democracy are partisan fighting and racial ignorance.

In regards to differing opinions and outside input, our team often spoke with others, and healthy debates ensued. Most specifically, we were concerned as to how reaching “zero” on the map could relate directly to citizens in PA. Would it depend mostly on political distribution, or just population density? In the end, we changed our mindset from shifting numbers to equal representation of parties. Each individual, regardless of political standings, was able to have a voice. All in all, utilizing others points of view allowed us to view our submission in a more literal interpretation. We learned to realize that drawing lines would not only change the numbers on the screens before us, but affect the people within those districts as well.

As far as challenges go, we had the most difficulty within our mindset. We were set on getting each individual district to zero, no matter how much work it would take. The most challenging aspect to this was allowing each of them to stay compact. We realized that gerrymandering can be done almost subconsciously in a system where we make the rules with little to no repercussions. Everything considered, it was an introspective experience to allow ourselves to think harder and avoid any easy ways out. What is a democracy if not hard work prevailing?

Briefly, to conclude, we as a duo learned an assortment of valuable lessons from this insightful project. We learned that participation in a democracy can be obstructed, often by those in power, that racial and partisan division will only ever lead to negative ramifications, and when approaching a problem that has, and will, baffle many, looking with a fresh perspective and a lack of bias is the best way to evaluate the situation. After all, a democracy with deceptions and frauds is merely a facade with a sheer veil of hasty “equality” thrown atop, and we must fight to stop it.