The Anti-Gerrymandering Gals (Cumberland Valley H.S.) - 2nd Place, West Youth

About Samantha Dennison (left): I am currently in 10th grade at Cumberland Valley High School, as well as an active member of Science Olympiad and Future Business Leaders of America. In my free time I enjoy playing tennis, drawing, and crocheting.

About Rachael Kim (center): I am a sophomore at Cumberland Valley High School. My interests are playing the cello, piano, and beating my dad in tennis.

About Alina Watson (right): I play the violin, dance, and enjoy to run in my free time.

Judges' statement

We liked both the look of this map and the personal statement, which goes into great detail on their mapping process, on gerrymandering, and on Pennsylvania’s political landscape and historical legacy.  We noted that the team considered past election data and even devised a spreadsheet to better track party affiliation. “This group did a lot of work and achieved a fair map, one that is better looking than what the politicians previously left us,” one of us noted.

Personal statement

By entering this contest, we hope to create a Pennsylvania which will be more equitable during elections and will avoid gerrymandering to as great an extent possible. With Pennsylvania losing one congressional seat after the 2020 census, we have worked toward creating a map with factors that strengthen the districting in our state. We desire to create a new Congressional District Map which will reflect several critical goals that make our state stronger and more just in elections. We strongly disavow gerrymandering of all forms, which is why we have implemented techniques that combat gerrymandering and limit its consequences. Our main goals for the map are comprised of elements of compactness, competitiveness, and equal population.

Compactness is an important objective as we understand that representative and constituent communication is key. The people should be as close to their representatives as possible, and compactness should allow the representative to reach out to the people more easily. Additionally, compactness reduces gerrymandering and other forms of corruption as it necessitates shaping the districts to be as rectangular as possible, which combats drawing shapes to appeal to one political party.

By being compact, the districts all have relatively the same climate and issues, so the representative does not need to worry about having to learn those of the many different areas. We achieved a map that has 43.4% compactness, which is a fair number as the county lines of Pennsylvania are not perfectly straight. We visualized where straight lines were and tried to base our districts off those lines. Since rectangles are the most compact, the straight lines allow for the districts to become more compact.

We tackled the straight-edged side of Pennsylvania and then worked our way to Eastern Pennsylvania. Our draft, which solely included the counties, gave us a rough estimate of how to best create compactness. Finally, the counties were divided to achieve an even more compact map. Overall, compactness is undoubtedly an important aspect of the map, and without it, communication would be extremely difficult.

Moreover, competitiveness is an important factor because Pennsylvania is a swing state, which means that it is neither strictly Republican or Democratic. We endeavored to create a map that would take into account political data, party registrations, and recent election results to create as many districts as possible where each party has a relatively equal chance to win.

By having competitive districts, constituents of both parties have a voice in their vote. Gerrymandering is a form of drawing district maps to favor one party over another. This is highly unconstitutional, as it does not give an accurate representation of the voters in those areas. Two types of gerrymandering include cracking and packing. We avoided using either of these techniques as we strove to create the fairest map possible. Cracking is the practice of dividing a highly concentrated political party into multiple districts, and packing is placing all similar political parties into the same district.

We created an Excel spreadsheet that listed the number of Republicans and Democrats in each county. We further used this information to create a database where we could sort out the fairest way to split the districts based on political parties. We tried to be as impartial as possible through the many attempts made to create a map with districts that were neither a Republican majority nor a Democratic majority. Overall, we achieved a map which has 8 competitive districts. Through doing this, we can allow Pennsylvania to continue its legacy as a purple state.

Furthermore, we recognize that equal population is perhaps one of the most important aspects of our congressional map. Pennsylvania was one of the original thirteen colonies, named the Keystone State as it was the center of the original United States. As residents of the Keystone State, it is our responsibility to be fair and set an example for the other states.

If the districts were unequal, each voter residing in one of a lower population has more say on an issue than voters in larger population districts. We prioritized equal population so that all election districts have a comparable number of people while also complying with the constitutional principle of "one person, one vote.'"

Districts with populations equivalent in size are fairer in that the citizens of each are represented more equally. By drawing district lines in ways that would ensure relatively similar constituency sizes, we could reduce the "wasted vote" phenomenon that discourages people from voting. Unfairly divided districts would leave citizens without an incentive to vote because they would feel as though their ballot would not have as great a weighting or impact as others. Districts with constituencies of equal size would result in voters voicing their opinions without fearing underrepresentation or inequality to as great an extent. With this in mind, voters can focus more intently on choosing an elected official that would best represent their political beliefs and ideals.

In conclusion, for the reasons of compactness, competitiveness, and equal population, we believe our map is legitimate. These three elements are fundamental in creating a Congressional District Map, as they prevent the manipulation of changing boundaries to favor one party over another. We hope that in the making of our map, we succeeded in creating the best possible option to prevent the furtherance of corruption such as gerrymandering. Our state takes pride in being diverse and varying in political views, leaving Pennsylvania a proudly purple swing state.