Vivian Shao (Fox Chapel H.S., Allegheny County) - 1st Place, West Youth

Judges' Statement

Vivian had the least amount of splits for the division, which impressed the judges. But she was able to do this while also creating a strong score for competitive elections, which explains some of the wandering districts out east. All-around a well done map. Her personal statement detail and creativity impressed judges. Bringing her own recent voting statistics, above what was shown in the platform, put her over the top.

Personal Statement

In the “Congress” unit of my U.S. Government class, we learned the definition of “gerrymandering.” On the next slide of the lecture, our teacher showed us examples of the top ten most oddly shaped districts, many of which looked like they had threads connecting disparate regions. I was disappointed to see that on the list was a neighboring district in my home state, one whose twisting, turning, and jagged lines were a result of gerrymandering. Thus, as a part of my Civic Engagement Project, I decided to become involved in the redistricting issue and, in particular, exploring the possibilities in absence of gerrymandering.

Ultimately, my highest priority in redrawing the lines was to maximize the number of marginal districts to explore options without gerrymandering. To aid me in the drawing of accurate marginal districts, I used recent voting statistics of Pennsylvania counties (as of 03/22/2021). Focusing on the number of Democratic, Republican, and total voters in each county, I calculated the margin by which a major party candidate would win the district. Most of the time spent calculating was to test various district lines that incorporated different county populations to create districts with competitive elections (county splits were calculated based on population ratios). Based on the general definition of a marginal district, where the elected candidate wins with less than 55% of the vote, I have a total of eleven marginal districts, two Democratic-favoring districts (3 and 16), two Democratic safe seats (7 and 17), and two Republican safe seats (8 and 13).

I also had priorities such as district compactness and majority-minority districts. While I was able to maximize the number of majority-minority districts, I faced the challenge of minimizing the sacrifice of compactness for the creation of marginal districts, as Pennsylvania’s population and voters are far from equally distributed. After presenting and explaining a draft of my map to my entire Government class, most of the collected feedback I received was on the compactness, or lack thereof, of some districts, especially in central Pennsylvania where the state is least populated. Taking into account my classmates’ opinions, I redrew lines in central Pennsylvania (especially District 8), and in my final map, only two districts have a Polsby-Popper score of less than 20%. Additionally, I did not view PA’s current district map prior to drawing my lines so I did not draw any districts for incumbent protection.