Thea had strong outreach with her map (12 endorsements were among the most across any division this year). She also wrote an outstanding personal statement. Like some of our other honorable mentions, if she was competing in a prior year, we'd be looking at a potential top-2 finisher.
An imprisoned felon. A hard-working immigrant on a green card. A 16 year old girl living on the Main Line of Philadelphia. What do those three people have in common? None of them get to vote, but all three are counted in the census. As that 16 year old with no vote, I was determined to participate in this contest, and take advantage of this opportunity to share my voice.
As I thought about how to even begin my map, I thought about my own position: a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, but one still unable to vote. I decided to focus on population equivalence as my initial value in my map, with the understanding that some districts would have more voting residents than others, an inevitable inequity in the state of Pennsylvania. I realized quickly, and with intense frustration, that it would be impossible to create compact and competitive districts with a low population equivalence. I think that population equivalence is really important when creating a map because every vote should matter the same amount and carry the same weight in an election. This feeds into another important value to me- competitiveness.
The concept that every vote counts is the foundation of democracy, and is therefore a crucial value when creating a map. I didn’t initially set out to create a competitive map even though I think competitive elections are vital to democracy. As I mapped, and thought about my districts, I became starkly aware of the demographics of Pennsylvania as a whole. Living on the Main Line, and spending my time in the greater Philadelphia area, I live in an area that is primarily Democratic. However, most of the state’s counties are Republican. When I looked at the numbers, I was brought back to the issue of population equivalence. Although the majority of the counties are Republican, the majority of Pennsylvania’s residents are densely packed into Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Erie. My goal became to maintain a low population equivalence while making at least half of my districts competitive.
As expected, the challenge of keeping compact districts arose. Compactness is critical in a district to ensure that an elected representative is able to accurately represent the concerns of a congregated group of people in legislation. If districts are wildly shaped, such as my districts 11 and 5 specifically, then a representative is tasked with the unfair job of representing different and potentially adverse interests and voices. This process certainly tested my patience, but it also enabled me to set goals and work towards them.
Coupled with my own beliefs about what values were important to represent in a map of congressional districts, I wanted to see what other people, of all ages and residing in different parts of Pennsylvania thought. I talked to students, varying in age from 13-17, living in Montgomery County, who seemed to value competitiveness the most out of all the possible values in a map and compactness the least. When talking to a student in Allegheny County, she told me that she also really valued competitiveness. Adults around me seemed to value both competitiveness and equal numbers of voters in districts, bringing me back to the issue that a low population equivalence does not necessarily mean an equal number of voters in districts. All of these opinions factored into shaping my own views, and into the drawing of my map.
Though frustrating at times, the mapping process was both extremely rewarding and informative, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this contest.