Yet another map that just missed podium honors. Shania wrote a strong personal statement to go with an impressive map (45% compactness!). Her survey to collect opinions was important for judges. She is probably a winner in other years/categories. Baldwin really brought it this year.
While I have lived in the United States for my entire life, I was unaware of the extent of partisanship in a supposedly democratic process until my school introduced students to the Draw-the-Lines map-making contest. As I researched gerrymandering, I realized the severity of its implications; by seeking to usurp the ability of the people to elect their government, gerrymandering completely undermines the basis of democratic elections. I had no doubts about participating in this contest. In doing so, I would better understand not only the process of creating election districts in the U.S but also ways of mitigating gerrymandering.
Before starting my map, I reflected on what I wanted to accomplish. While I wanted to maximize politicians’ accountability to voters, through conversation with my peers, I gathered that the most competitive maps sacrifice compactness, resulting in odd-shaped districts that are reminiscent of gerrymandered ones. Therefore, I decided to prioritize both compactness and competitiveness.
A critical component of creating my own congressional map of Pennsylvania was my outreach to Pennsylvanians. I developed a survey, which I sent to a small pool of people who live and/or attend school in Pennsylvania. In the survey, after providing respondents with an explanation of gerrymandering and its implications, I defined the five values most relevant to my map (compactness, competitiveness, communities-of-interest, equal population, and majority-minority districts), asking respondents to rank them by importance. Additionally, in order to receive data more specific to my chosen values, I required that recipients explain their rankings of competitiveness and compactness. The survey’s results confirmed that my priorities aligned with those of respondents; compactness ranked as the most important value while competitiveness came in second. Moreover, half of the people who did not prioritize compactness did so because they felt that it worked in opposition to competitiveness, making it clear that I should not forgo competitiveness but balance it with compactness.
As I worked, I encountered a few challenges, one of the largest being my map’s seventh district. When I reached the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, I had already made Districts 1-5 compact and, excluding two, competitive. However, Greene County and its neighboring counties are very sparsely populated; for District 7 to reach an acceptable population, I would have to either sacrifice compactness or redraw Districts 3-5. This was a difficult choice, but I determined that by adding the unassigned counties directly to the east of Greene County to District 7, I would create a very competitive district, albeit with a relatively low compactness score. Additionally, in Districts 3, 10, and 13, the difference between the percentages of Democrats and Republicans was just over 10%; I had to decide whether or not to keep working on these districts until, in each, the difference between the percentages of Democrats and Republicans was below 10%. While deciding, I kept in mind that Districts 3, 10, and 13 were all compact, especially the former two. Therefore, I decided to designate these districts as “unofficially competitive” in my notes, sacrificing the official count for compactness. Indeed, my challenges were reflective of the difficulties and trade-offs inherent in the creation of electoral districts; through the decisions I made with my map, I understood that perfection in the mapmaking process is unattainable, and compromise between values is essential.