Sam Stella (Pine Richland H.S., Allegheny County) - 1st Place, West Youth

About Sam: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. I have participated in numerous academic competitions. In eighth grade, I participated in the Pennsylvania State Geography Bee. In high school, I have participated in forensics (public forum debate) and college bowl, competed in a local quiz show (Hometown High Q), and announced high school football games for my school television station.

Judges'  statement

We were unanimous in their admiration for Sam’s submission, which shows a real understanding of the complexities of redistricting. His all-around metrics were excellent. He only split 33 counties, and we  thought his map was clean and fair. Sam reached out not only to his map endorser but also to his classmates, asking them what value they thought most important in legislative mapping. He also dug into the data to smooth out his map’s rough edges and looked at the maps of previous winners to benchmark his own. He kept a strong focus on geography  and in his personal statement discussed looking at census tract data, as well. 

Endorsements: 1

Personal statement

When I first heard about this competition, I thought that it was a perfect way for me to use my geography and political knowledge for a good cause. I have often thought that politics is too divisive and polarized, so I thought that a good way to promote compromise among lawmakers would be to create competitive districts. With that said, I have also thought that districts are too confusing and should have geographically sound borders.

Because redistricting is a communal issue, I decided to ask my classmates which they would rather their congressional districts be: competitive or compact. Everyone that I asked told me that they would rather have competitive congressional districts, something that I had determined that I would rather have, too. Thus, I chose to attempt to create competitive congressional districts that were compact where they could be.

This was certainly challenging. It is nearly impossible to create a district with perfect geographic boundaries because of population equivalence, and even if you could, you would wind up having a difficult time making districts around it. The proof of this can be seen along the border between my 14th and 15th congressional districts in Allegheny County. Most of the length of the border is formed by the Monongahela River, but there are two notable exceptions. Two census tracts in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh are out of place, as is Forward in the far south of the county. Without these remedies, the 15th district would not have enough population.

With that said, I am still very happy with my map. It is compliant with the Voting Rights Act (2 majority-minority districts), and it hits My goals on continuity and population equivalence. Twelve of the 17 districts count as competitive, but I think that even that sells the map short. While I think that District 13 is wrongly considered competitive, I think that both districts 14 and 15 are competitive as both have gone for both parties in presidential elections within the last three elections. Therefore, I believe that it has 13 competitive districts. I am also satisfied with the compactness. It has a compactness score of 39.5%, which is a pretty good score compared with prior winners. It also has a good amount of geographically-defined boundaries, like in Allegheny County with the three rivers. Therefore, I think that it lives up to my initial values.