State Runner-Up, Youth: Isabel Holland & Julia Poulson-Houser, Abington Heights HS

About Isabel Holland: I am a student at Abington Heights High School in Lackawanna County PA. I am a varsity tennis player, which is how Julia and I met, and I also play the violin. Creating a map for this contest was a mandatory project in my AP Human Geography class, but submitting it was optional. Having lived in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, two states with gerrymandering, I was happy to have the opportunity to do something about it.

About Julia Poulson-Houser: I am 16 years old and going into my senior year of high school. I really love school and enjoy learning new academic material. Outside of the classroom, I am part of the forensics team and I also ski and play tennis.

Judges' statement

This was just a great job overall.  We loved how Isabel and Julia decided to start all over on their map based on their sense that a focus on competitiveness went against their values.  They ended up with a very nice-looking map with a top-notch compactness score and overall solid metrics.

Even though they rethought making competitiveness their guiding goal, their map still scored above the median for that criterion. They did a nice job gathering endorsements, too.

The clincher was their explanation of how their map was a true case of bipartisanship, since one is a Republican and one is a Democrat, and their wish that members of Congress could emulate them. Loved it.   


Endorsements: 5

Personal statement

Gerrymandering is a very present and threatening factor in American politics. Specifically, gerrymandering affects Pennsylvania, which experienced such a bad case that the state Supreme Court was involved. As we learned about gerrymandering in AP Human Geography, our class figured that this was a permanent plague on Pennsylvania politics. However, knowledge of this contest inspired my partner and I to attempt to change the constant cycle between Republican and Democratic control and the resulting injustice.

My partner, Julia, and I first made a map that emphasized political competition over all else, but we were unsatisfied with the results and decided to make an additional, different map.

In this new map, we decided to value compactness, contiguity, with still some value in competition. Due to the fact that my partner is a Republican and I am a Democrat, we ultimately came to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to create a map centered around creating more competitive districts that would satisfy all the people. Trying to achieve competitiveness over all else creates distorted-looking districts that mirror those in regular gerrymandering. By valuing compactness, the map looks more attractive and less threatening or manipulated.

Our geography teacher emphasized his belief that this contest was looking for individuals to value political competitiveness over all else, so that is what we accomplished with the previous map. However, something about it did not look or seem right. We still incorporated some of his beliefs as well as the input from other classmates and created nine somewhat competitive districts.

The challenges in creating this map centered around maneuvering Pennsylvania metropolitan areas, and placing or breaking them up into compact districts. In the beginning, we sought to break up as few counties as possible but we later found out it is impossible to totally avoid  jagged borders.

Our main rationale behind creating a map like this is our belief that the lawmakers should handle redistricting just as Julia and I did, with cooperation between both people.

While that goal may seem improbable, the example of us working together represents a brighter possibility for the future, in which people band together to make our democracy fairer than it ever has been. Compactness, contiguity, and competitiveness combine to make districts the people of Pennsylvania can be proud to participate in.