What is Draw the Lines PA?

It’s a statewide effort to help Pennsylvanians of all ages learn about and connect with the issue of political redistricting and gerrymandering. We hope their participation boosts their confidence so they can act as an effective force for reform. We hope to prove the people of our Commonwealth are ready, willing and able to be part of this core democratic work — drawing district lines.

Sounds hard. How?

Several ways:
1. With fun and informative events that take the mystery out of gerrymandering and show people how to make a difference.
2. With mapping competitions for cash prizes by entering maps they draw themselves using our online tool.
3. With THIS lively website, backed by social media channels and full of clear issue background, citizen stories and opportunities to participate.
4. With tips on how participants can share their maps and their views on gerrymandering with their elected officials.

Prizes? Tell me more!

We hold competitions twice a year (one per school semester) in three divisions: school, college and adult. We just launched our third.  For this first time, we're inviting maps of state legislative districts as well as congressional districts.  The project runs through 2021 (when the next official round of election mapping happens).

Mappers are competing for both regional and statewide prizes. It’s free to enter with no hidden costs to participate. Enter as many different maps as you like.

Also: You can enter a map either as an individual or as part of a group. It could be your church, a service club, community group, book club, softball team, or just the gang you hang out with at the gym. If you win, the check can be made out to the group.

In the school and college divisions, classrooms or school clubs can enter as groups, too.

If you’re a little intimidated by the online tool thing, click "Get Help" at the bottom of this page and we’ll hook you up with someone who can guide you through the steps of making a map. Call it our “digital sherpa” service. We’ll help you get to the top of the mountain.

Who wins and how?

Our DistrictBuilder tool evaluates every submitted congressional map on several quantitative metrics (e.g. compactness, equal population). It shows leaderboards for those categories, so you can check how you’re doing as the contest goes on.

In addition to the map, each entrant provides a personal statement (written, video or audio), telling us about what went into the making of the map, including which values the mapper sought to stress and what kind of input the mapper got from other people. Our judging panels then decide winners based on a combination of map scores and evaluation of the statements. Check out the winners from the fall 2018 and spring 2019 competitions.

What's this DistrictBuilder?

The political pros use expensive commercial mapping software to draw their maps, too costly for the average person. We wanted to level the playing field, to give people like you a fair shot.

So we hooked up with a respected, public-spirited Philadelphia outfit called Azavea, a software engineering and data analysis firm that focuses on projects related to geography and place. The firm built an early version of DistrictBuilder back in 2010 for use in contests tied to the last round of redistricting.

We asked them to pull that old but powerful car out of the garage and get it road-worthy again, with a version designed specifically for use in Pennsylvania. It’s open-source software, absolutely free to use.

To make a map, you will have to create a user account, which involves giving us an email address. We are dedicated to proper handling of any personal information we collect and to protection of your privacy. On the Draw a Map page, you’ll find a link to DistrictBuilder, as well as a link to our tutorial on how to use it, which is where we suggest you start.

Who's behind all this?

We assure you Draw the Lines is not a front for a political party or a shadowy gazillionaire with an agenda.

This is a project of the Committee of Seventy. Yeah, that’s a weird name, but it’s a venerable and respected good-government group based in Philadelphia. Totally on the up and up, and rigorously nonpartisan. You can find out more about here.

Still, it’s true, we are based In Philly and sometimes that doesn’t go over so well in Hazelton or Chambersburg or Bellefonte or East Stroudsburg. 

So we’ve also set up three regional steering committees (East, Central and West) chock full of respected civic, business and education leaders from towns all over the state. Their ranks include a former Republican governor, a former Democratic mayor and cabinet member, a former Republican state senator and a former U.S. attorney.

What kind of events are you holding?

We’re happy to partner with any group that wants to learn more about the redistricting issue in a fun, impactful way.

We’ve got three basic types of event to offer:

1. Gerrymandering 101, a lively tour of the issue with some interactive stuff.

2. Carnival (or Bar Games) for Democracy, where the stress is on interactivity, fun and prizes, but you actually learn some useful facts along the way. (We call it a carnival for the under-21 crowd; Bar Games for groups that appreciate a good craft beer.)

3. DTL Mapathon, where we start to seriously geek out with the software and help you get started on making maps.

And we’ll work with you on any other kind of event idea you have, as long as it gets people thinking about how they want their democracy to work and what they’re going to do to make that happen. For example, last fall in Philly we teamed up with a video company to put on a story slam on this theme: Fixing Democracy.

What do you have for teachers and their classes?

Getting students involved and excited is a vital goal of DTL.

Students who participate are able to win some major cash prizes, build their resume, and play a role in their democracy.  We invite you to share information with students who would be interested in doing this.

For teachers that want to bring this to their classroom, we also worked with the state Department of Education and some experienced social studies/government teachers to develop a full, multi-unit, project-based curriculum, with activities and resources designed to be useful to the busy teacher.

Let us know how we can help bring this to students in your school. We can come to the classroom or meet with after-school groups or just an ad-hoc group of students who want to give mapping a try.

So who's footing the bill?

Foundations, mostly, ones that care about civic education, democratic reform and community health. We’ve received grants from these foundations so far: Pittsburgh, Heinz, Hillman, Grable, Benedum, William Penn and Independence. We also received a few individual donations, but none yet from shadowy gazillionaires. (If you know one, give us a call.)

Where is DTL based?

DTL is a statewide effort, looking for involvement from across the state. Without it, Draw the Lines PA will fail.

How are we going to avoid that failure? Remember those regional committees? Chances are good that at least one of the volunteers serving on them lives near you. Using the resources below, reach out to one of your committee members.

Also we have home bases and regional coordinators in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. In the Steel City, the host organization is Duquesne University and its law school. Our coordinator there is Rachel Colker. In Harrisburg, it’s Widener University's Commonwealth School of Law, and our coordinator is Corinna Wilson. In Philly, we hang out at Seventy’s offices on South Broad Street, and our coordinator for the Eastern Region is Linda Breitstein. To contact a committee or one of its members, click "Get Help" in the link list at the bottom of this page.

What if computers baffle me? Am I left out?

No, a thousand times no. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways that folks like you can participate.

Visit our Participate page (in the navigation bar above) to find more than 30 different ways to be part of the project. The page lets you know the type of activity and how long it’ll take, from a few minutes to a day or more. You can pick and choose according to your interests and situation. Some of the activities are challenging, to be sure, but a lot are simple and purely for fun. Some even use PAPER!

In this spring round of the competition, we've added a new feature: Endorsing maps.  Even if you didn't have a hand in creating an entered map, you can endorse one that makes sense to you.  Endorsements give an entered map a boost in our judging process.

How many maps do you want to get?

5,000 is a nice round number, don’t you think? Maybe you’ve heard of Amanda Holt, the young piano teacher who back in 2011 took on the powers-that-be in Harrisburg all by herself and got a badly gerrymandered legislative map overturned. She’s sort of the patron saint of this effort, and a key adviser.

One simple way we think about the numbers is this: If just by herself as one citizen mapper, Amanda Holt could have the kind of real-world impact she did, just imagine what effect an army of 5,000 Amandas might have in 2021, when the new election maps get drawn.   (So, far more than 2,700 mappers have signed on to District Builder, working on more than 6,000 maps.)

And don't miss Amanda's video!

So, are you out to sign me up for some secret agenda?

No, not at all. We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which is IRS gobbledygook for … we’re about education, not advocacy.

We’re trying to teach people how redistricting works, so that they can seize their own destiny.

If we have a dog in this fight, it’s this: We do believe democracy would go better in this state and nation if election districts were drawn in a more orderly, transparent way, with more public input and a sharper eye on the public, as opposed to partisan, interest.

But we back no party, no particular bill or position. Further, the maps you produce will never be used for partisan purposes.

That said, part of our project’s mission certainly is to inform you about reform ideas and proposed legislation. And to help you figure out how to contact your elected officials to share your views effectively.

But what your views on the correct path to reform are yours to decide. We won’t ever presume to tell you what to support.

Are you competing with that other redistricting group?

That’s Fair Districts PA, one of the most impressive volunteer advocacy efforts this state has ever seen. Its push for a state constitutional amendment to set up an independent redistricting commission may have fallen short. But FDPA educated and energized more than 20,000 people, getting closer to its goal than a lot of old political hands in Harrisburg ever thought it would. That's impressive.

We see Draw the Lines PA as both complimentary (with an “I”) and complementary (with an “E”) to Fair Districts. Complimentary, as in: We salute and praise the work Fair Districts did and look forward to working with its volunteers. Complementary, as in: We hope to build upon Fair Districts’ work in making the case for a larger voter role in redistricting.

Think of Draw the Lines PA as a demonstration project for a core Fair Districts claim: Ordinary people are not only capable of doing election maps, but in fact will do a better job than the self-interested political class likely ever will.

The maps done on DistrictBuilder take that statement from plausible assertion to plain-as-day fact. Once everyone from eighth-grade students in Moon Township to senior citizens in Pen Argyl have done their own, constitutional maps, thanks to DTL and District Builder, it’ll be pretty hard for the pols to keep claiming that this work has to be left to the “experts.”

Do you really, seriously think this will make a difference?

It’s funny. When we describe the project to folks, there’s one group of people who never have any trouble seeing the potential power in having thousands of students, their parents and their grandparents all excited about sharing the maps they drew themselves. You know who that group is? Professional politicians. They get it.

They know that if we truly can raise an earnest, informed, engaged, determined “Amanda’s Army” from every corner of the Commonwealth, red, blue or purple, then it will have a major effect on how the political class in Harrisburg approaches redistricting 2011.

They’ll know it will be flat-out dangerous to their political careers to try anything as secretive and partisan as they pulled off last time around in 2011. Add to that the factor of the political alignments of the courts and the General Assembly likely being very different in 2021 than they were 10 years before, and it truly will be a whole new, much more promising ballgame.


Amanda Holt Video

In 2010, she was a quiet, 29-year-old piano teacher living just outside Allentown. Then she noticed something was … off in how her home state ran elections. She got curious. She got informed. Then she got mad. And Pennsylvania politics was in for an earthquake.