Maps are in; judges now begin weighing which ones are the best

Chris Satullo| December 15th, 2018

Image Credit: DTL Staff

DistrictBuilder is no Candy Crush or Angry Birds. It's a complex tool for a complex task. Still, thousands of Pennsylvanians rolled up their sleeves and gave it a try.





Those are the key numbers as Draw the Lines’ first statewide mapping competition has wrapped up.  The deadline for entries was 11:59 p.m. Friday.

To translate:

315 is the number of valid entries i.e. maps that created 18 contiguous congressional districts of nearly equal population, accompanied by the mapper’s personal statement of the goals they were seeking to fulfill in the map.

5,670 is the number of congressional districts painstakingly drawn within those maps. 

1,366 is how many separate user accounts have been set up in our digital mapping tool, DistrictBuilder, since the contest launched in mid-September.   Because many of those user accounts represent high school or college teams with three-to-eight members, the number of mappers who just had an experience of mapping Pennsylvania is more than 1,500.

2,496 is how many maps have been started in DistrictBuilder since Sept. 15.   Some of those are false starts or discarded tries by mappers who ended up submitting another map they liked better. (Or maps, plural: Some folks entered as many as eight maps). But some of those indicate people who took a whack at doing a map but didn’t finish.

A message lurks inside these numbers:  Drawing a valid congressional map is not easy.  It takes time, thought and persistence. DistrictBuilder will never be confused with Candy Crush or Angry Birds.  But you can do it.  People as different as 10th graders from central Pennsylvania to seniors from suburban Philadelphia managed to finish their maps.

As Draw the Lines moves forward with subsequent competitions – and a new one begins next month – we’ll do everything we can to set mappers up to succeed and to support them all the way to the finish line.

So, what happens next in this competition?


The Connect the Dots game made it fun to learn about "cracking" and "packing." | Image Credit: DTL Staff

Next week, the Draw the Lines team will sort all the maps into nine cohorts for the first round of judging.

The competition has three regions – west, central and east – and three age groups – secondary school, higher education and adult.  Three times three equals nine.

Then we’ll cull the entries into groups of semifinalists, no more than 10 per cohort.  How will we do that? First, we’ll use the quantitative metrics automatically produced by DistrictBuilder to test how well each mapper succeeded at fulfilling the stated goals of a map.

Next, we’ll look at the maps: Are they elegant or clumsy in how they addressed the challenges involved?  And we’ll look at the mappers’ statements: How well does the statement explain why the chosen goal is important?  How much preparation or democratic dialogue went into the making of the map? How thoughtful is the statement? How creative? (Mappers were free to create video, audio or other media to go with their maps.)


Folks rarely went hungry at DTL events during the fall competition. | Image Credit: DTL Staff


The nine groups of semifinalists will go to three judging panels made up of members of our three regional steering committees.  In early January, in each region, the judges will pick a champion in each age division; each champ gets $500.

We’ll also cite a runner-up in each age bracket, who’ll get $250.  The judges can also pick a few honorable mentions, mappers whose work was so interesting or clever in some way that the judges want them to get some recognition.

We’ll announce the regional winners on this site and on our social media channels (@drawthelinespa) in mid-January.


Drawing "Personal Pennsylvanians" help mappers understand "communities of interest" and the "softer" elements of redistricting. Hundreds were submitted at events across Pennsylvania.
Drawing "Personal Pennsylvanians" help mappers understand "communities of interest" and the "softer" elements of redistricting. Hundreds were submitted at events across Pennsylvania. | Image Credit: DTL Staff

Then the champion and runner-up in each of the nine cohorts will move onto the statewide judging, which will be done by the co-chairs of each regional committee.

The statewide winner in each age division will win $4,500.  The runner-up in each age division will receive $2,500.

The statewide champions and runners-up will be announced in an event at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg.  All honored mappers, regional and statewide, will be invited to attend, as will each of their state representatives and state senators.

Also in the new year, we’ll be working with all our mappers to help them set up meetings with their elected state and federal representatives to share their maps and talk about redistricting reform.

This event in the rotunda will also serve as the formal launch of our next mapping competition.  Changing things up a bit, this one will challenge participants to use District Builder to draw a valid congressional map of the Commonwealth that has 17 districts, rather than the 18 called for in the just-concluded competition.

Why?  Because Pennsylvania is almost certain to lose at least one congressional seat in the national reapportionment of seats in U.S. Congress that will happen after the 2020 Census.  The first contest looked back at the 2011 redistricting, showing that voters could do a better job. The next competition looks forward to the challenge facing the state in 2021.


Image Credit: DTL Staff

Deadline for entries in this competition will be May 20.   The set-up of regions and age brackets will be the same, but we may also experiment with some new competition ideas, such as high school vs. high school.

Here at Draw the Lines we salute all the mappers who entered their work, as well as the much larger group that gave DistrictBuilder a try. We hope you all learned something about what goes into creating a valid map and left with a clearer sense that this is work that the voters of Pennsylvania can and should do.

We also want to thank all the educators at high schools and colleges across the Commonwealth who invited us into their classrooms and used DistrictBuilder as a teaching tool for their students, who after all are the people upon whom the rest of us will someday rely to keep our democracy strong.  Thanks also to all the volunteers who boosted the effort and all the community groups that helped us organize some of the 80 events involving more than 2,000 people that we’ve been part of since September.

And, last but far from least, much gratitude to all of our steering committee members, who buoyed the effort throughout the fall with their energy, enthusiasm, expertise and good counsel.

One competition down, mappers, but many more to come.

Let’s keep working to #slaythegerrymander.  Because, after all, it’s #ourHouseourmouse.


Chief of Staff Justin Villere criss-crossed the state helping people learn to use the DistrictBuilder tool. | Image Credit: DTL Staff