The Mapper's Tale: Douglas Campbell of Philadelphia

Chris Satullo| October 2nd, 2018

Douglas Campbell of Philadelphia

We asked Douglas Campbell, one of the first people to finish a valid congressional map in DistrictBuilder, how he did it. He had a lot to say.

What goals did you have in mind for your map when you started drawing? Why were those your priorities?

Originally, going in, I wanted to have districts that allowed election outcomes where the state's delegation reflected the overall demographics of the state.  I also wanted to ensure that "like" areas (cities, counties, townships) were with in the same districts (eg: Telford in Bucks and Montgomery county.  It and its neighboring towns are very similar and a strict county-line split would have split the town and similar municipalities).  While keeping this in mind, I did also try to keep counties within one district as much as possible, as they gave good pre-made lines for a start.  Keeping the other goals in mind, I thought it best to try to make as many of the districts as I could be competitive instead of dominated by one party of another.  

The reasons for these were rather simple, in my mind.  First, keep the pre-built geographies (county, city, township) in place.  Allow citizens living similar lives to vote together.  Allow for more competitiveness to ensure the overall state representation is flexible enough to shift with the changing national political winds as necessary.

As you worked on your map, what kinds of tradeoffs or tough decisions did you find yourself having to weigh?

It became obvious right from the jump that the counties would need to be split, and probably more often than I had hoped for.  In addition, with the population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (and to a lesser extent Allentown and Harrisburg areas) leaning primarily Democrat and the open spaces in the central and northern parts of the state leaning Republican, not a large number of the districts would end up being very competitive.  So, my trade-off there was splitting these groups into populations that made sense, but also still fit my goals of similar citizenry voting together.  Tough decisions were how to split the major cities and some counties (specifically Bucks, which was almost a district in population size by itself).  Going into it, I would have preferred the geographic size of districts to be more even, but without "gerrymandering" for population size, that's near impossible.  So the single largest districts ends up covering the same area as eight districts in the populous southeast quadrant of the state.   Since I wanted all the districts within the target population range, that meant geography had to take a back seat.

What's the part or quality of your map that you're happiest about?

I was happy with the overall demographics of the map.  I have eight competitive districts, five Democrat-leaning and five Republican-leaning.  Though, most of the competitive are slight Democratic leans, but that reflects  the overall state demographics and voter registration. 

What's the part of your map that you had the most trouble with or that frustrated you the most?

The most trouble was trading off population size to get within the suggested range.  Switching a division from one district to another, or swapping divisions didn't always lead to my expected result.  Despite being similar sizes and shades of "population color" it wasn't always easy to guess how much change the move would have.  I think I'm least happy with District 6, which is by far the largest geographic district.  

What District Builder tools did you find most helpful in making your map?

For building, the polygon tool definitely was my most used.  However, the best tool was the Lock function in the District Tools.  Whenever I'd get a District into the population zone, I'd lock it so I wouldn't accidentally edit it with the polygon tool while creating nearby districts.

What advice/pro tips would you give someone who is about to log on to try to make a map on DistrictBuilder?

Start at the county level and start in Erie working your way south and/or east, but finishing in Philadelphia area.  Lock the districts down, and scroll back to county level to begin a new district.  Scroll back in to fine tune the population, or demographics.  Also, edit your own stats for a quick view.  I created a view of total population, registered democrats and registered republicans.  It gave me a good idea when I was in the right population range, and how competitive the district was going to end up.  

Are you thinking of doing more maps? If yes, what different goals or approaches might you be taking with those?

I was tempted to try to make a map focusing on maximizing the competitiveness.  However, to do this, you basically need to have thin lines of divisions in the Philadelphia area branch out into the center/west of the state, though it'd likely be more to see if it's possible, than to really expect it to be a viable solution.

I would also like to tweak my current map to maybe get more compactness, while retaining the population and competitive qualities.

Douglas Campbell is a quality insurance professional in the pharmaceutical industry.  He's lived in Pennsylvania his entire life, graduating from Drexel University in 2004 with a bachelor and masters degree in Environmental Engineering/Science.  He is married to the Committee of Seventy's chief advancement officer, so his map isn't eligible to be entered in the DTL competition.