When discussing state political elections with others, most people have no idea who their state senator is or what district they are a part of. Trying to describe a district to a friend or in a TV or radio broadcast (for example when interviewing a candidate or having a debate) or even in print is almost impossible. In many cases districts do not follow natural boundaries with which citizens are familiar. These natural boundaries also often create communities of interest, either political and/or geographic, so aligning senate districts with these boundaries would be helpful. If districts do not have understandable boundaries it is a barrier to civic engagement.
I first participated in a DTL event at Lebanon Valley College. My team worked on a starter map for congressional districts trying to implement a map based on communities of interest. As part of this discussion the topic of following natural boundaries and the ability to describe districts was raised. More recently, there is currently a special election campaign for a vote to be held in January in my state senate district. One of the candidates works at LVC, so there has been a fair bit of discussion about the election. This has brought up the fact that our district (48), while containing all of Lebanon county, also contains a twisty, impossible to describe tail into Dauphin and York counties.
Motivated by these discussions, I created a Senate map with districts that follow existing boundaries with which citizens are familiar. The flexibility that districts only need to be with 5% of equal population in state congressional redistricting makes it much easier to accomplish this goal with even a real, usable map of state senate districts than with U.S. congressional districts. I tried to use county boundaries whenever possible. When counties needed to be split, common division were along geographic features (rivers, major ridge-lines that separate communities), infrastructure (highways and rail corridors), and political boundaries (school districts and municipality boundaries).
Below I describe how the districts were created, how they follow existing boundaries, and how, in most cases, they can be communicated much more easily than the current districts.
Cumberland county– one district (1)...
Chester county – exactly two districts (2,3). The county is divided into 13 large (multi-municipality) school districts, so I followed school district boarders (as best as the program would allow). The county is actually not contiguous, so I needed to put a little section of the county isolated by Brandywine Creek into district 11 (and thus the entire census tract goes into district 11 and looks a bit odd on the map)....
Wayne and Lackawanna counties - one district (4) ....
Susquehanna, Bradford, Sullivan, Lycoming, and Tioga counties – one district (5)....
Northampton, Monroe, and Pike counties - Northampton county is too big for one district, so one district is fully in Northampton county (7) and then Argyl and Bangor school districts are combined with Monroe and Pike counties to create a second district (6)....
Columbia, Northumberland, Montour, Union, and Snyder counties – one district (8)....
Wyoming county plus Luzerne west of I81 and north of I80 (as best as the program will allow) (9)....
Remainder of Luzerne county plus Carbon plus Lehigh north of I78/US22 (10)....
Remainder of Lehigh (12).
Philadelphia is a bit tricky because the population density makes it harder to follow natural boarders while still getting districts to have the appropriate population. The last two districts are not that nice to describe, but I could not find a way around that. The entire county is divided into 6 districts.
• Central Phili, between the rivers, south of Poplar St. (14)
• West Phili, west of Schuylkill, south of main line (15).
• Northwest, bounded on the southeast by US 1, the fox chase train line, and short pieces of the Schuylkill River and Tacony Creek (19).
• Northeast, bounded on the southwest by Cottman Ave, US 1, and Levick St (13).
• North Central, bounded by Germantown Ave, the Amtrack line, Tacony Ck. Levick St, US 1, Cottman Ave, and the fox chase train line (16).
• Central, bounded by the main line, Poplar St., Tacony Ck., the Amtrak line, Germantown Ave, US 1, and the Schuylkill (32).
All of Erie county is in one district (18), except for two school districts that cross county lines (so the school districts are not split between senate districts). The remainder of Erie county is grouped with all of Mercer, Crawford, and Warren counties (24). Clinton, Centre, and Mifflin Counties – one district (29).
McKean, Potter, Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Clarion, and Jefferson Counties – one district (22).
Butler, Venango, and Forest Counties – one district (25).
Lawrence and Beaver Counties – one district (28).
Greene and Washington Counties – one district (31).
Fayette, Somerset, and Bedford Counties – one district (33).
Blair and Cambria Counties – one district (34).
Allegheny county is divided into exactly five districts following the major rivers and political boundaries.
• The east district (42) contains everything east of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers that is not within the city of Pittsburgh.
• The central district (37) contains the part of the city of Pittsburgh north of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers along with Shaler Area school district.
• The northern district (39) is everything north of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers except for the city of Pittsburgh and the Shaler Area SD.
• The area south of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers is divided into western (38) and southern (36) districts, following township boundaries.
All of the city of Pittsburgh south of the rivers is in the southern district, and I tried to create a district boundary that minimized the number of township boundaries used. Westmoreland county is split into two districts along school district lines, with one district completely contained in Westmoreland county (44) and one district combined with all of Indiana and Armstrong counties (35), including school districts that cross county lines. Franklin and Adams Counties – one district (47).
Dauphin County south of the main ridge-line (running just north of PA 325) is all in one district (49). This ridge naturally divides the two main populated areas in the county. District (50) is the ridge and valley district. Definitely not compact, but follows the ridges in central PA and communities of interest. Contains all of Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, and Perry counties, Northern Dauphin county, and Northern Schuylkill county (north of the main ridge that runs south of US 209.
Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, and Berks counties don’t have many natural geographically based boundaries so are split along school district lines, attempting to limit the number of cross-county districts.
• Delaware County: Two districts are completely contained in the county (11 and 17) while another is shared with Montgomery county (23).
• Bucks County: Two districts are completely contained in the county (26 and 27) while another is shared with Montgomery county (30). I needed to split a couple of long rectangular school districts along township lines to make the numbers work.
• Montgomery county: One district is fully in the county (20) and the other districts are shared with Delaware (23), Bucks (30), and Berks (21), with the Berks shared district also following school districts that cross county lines.
• Berks County: One district fully in the county (40), containing all of the Reading area. A couple of eastern school districts are part of district (21) shared with Montgomery county. The northwestern school districts are grouped with all of Lebanon County and the “south of the ridge” portion of Schuylkill county to form a district (43).
The southeast two school districts are part of district (41) with Lancaster County. In Lancaster County and York Counties, some major highways and rivers provided natural boarders:
• Everything north of highways PA283 and US 30 in Lancaster county is part of district (41), along with a small piece of Berks county.
• Everything south of PA283/US30 but north of Pequea Creek forms district (48).
• Everything south of Pequa Creek and US30 combines with southern York county (divided by school district) to form district (45).
• The northern part of York county, including all of the York city area school districts, forms district (46).