Sina Shaikh (Fox Chapel Area HS, Allegheny County) - Honorable Mention, Western Youth

About Sina: Sina Shaikh graduated from Fox Chapel Area High School this past spring and is currently attending the University of Pennsylvania. He's super passionate about government and is interning for Conor Lamb's re-election campaign.

Judges' Statement

Though it used a starter map, Sina's entry showed a strong engagement with and grasp of the issue. It did well accomplishing compact districts among those that it drew from scratch.

Personal Statement

Confidence in our elections is a key tenant of our democracy. When I began this project, I thought that the shape of districts and their conformity to geographical and regional boundaries was irrelevant. However, after speaking with a few friends, I realized that they associated any unusually shaped districts with gerrymandering; in other words, the actual fairness of the district is of secondary importance to the apparent fairness.

Without a belief that our elections are free and fair, trust in democracy disappears and the government loses its power. With my map, I created districts which attempted first and foremost to instill confidence in voters. Therefore, I used the starter map for Western PA which prioritized compactness. Voters who feel that their political efficacy is diminished through gerrymandering may not vote or engage in other forms of political participation. Districts which might be more competitive or proportionally representative of the state are often difficult to differentiate from heavily gerrymandered districts; I wanted to design a simple, understandable map which restores the constituents’ confidence in the power of their vote.

I tried to keep my districts compact and based on clear county or geographical boundaries. I also tried to divide the city of Pittsburgh more or less equally between districts 1, 2, and 3 rather than packing as much as possible of it into one district, thereby including both rural and urban voters in all three districts. I did this because a variety of opinions and demographic groups in each of the districts will contribute to their competitiveness. Furthermore, because urban and rural voters see differently on issues that affect both of them, candidates need to discuss, debate, and compromise, not just appeal solely to one group. For example, while fracking in the municipalities around Pittsburgh might be popular in the rural areas, because it affects the air and water quality within Pittsburgh it should require the input of those in Pittsburgh.

A clear boundary separating compact districts may not lead to the most competitive districts or a proportionate amount of minority-majority districts but it leads to increased voter participation and a greater degree of satisfaction with our government.