The Mapper's Tale: Eric Stahl of Washington, D.C.

Chris Satullo| December 13th, 2018

Eric Stahl

When Eric Stahl of Washington, D.C., sat down with DistrictBuilder to create his DTL map, he already knew a bunch about redistricting. But he still faced some surprisingly hard choices as he tried to craft a map that favored the compactness goal.

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

I was primed for this challenge because I have been doing pro bono work with professional redistricting experts in voting rights litigation. My goal was to draw defensible districts--lines that would make sense to voters.  Gerrymandering undermines the legitimacy of districts, so I wanted to draw districts that would not require a thesis to defend their fairness. I prioritized straight lines and whole counties in both of my maps, wherever possible, but especially in my "Polsby-Popper Compact" map.

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

When I started this exercise, I compared my task to completing a puzzle. Naively, I thought there would be right answers along my quest for fair districts. I was quickly made aware of my misconceptions. There are no right answers in drawing maps. Instead, I had to constantly compromise my desires to keep districts perfectly compact and to not split counties.

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

Despite the many times it strays from perfection, I appreciate the relatively compact districts in my map titled "Polsby-Popper Compact." I think a voter seeing those districts wouldn't question the fairness of them. For example, I was able to split Pittsburgh in half, almost entirely along the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers.

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

I wanted to avoid county splits as much as possible, but the simple math of one-person one-vote means that county splits are unavoidable. What is really frustrating is how the splits compound as you move across the state.

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

I found the whole apparatus very intuitive and easy to use. I appreciate how zooming in shows the precincts, shaded by population. I mostly used the polygon select tool to pull in counties and precincts very quickly.

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

It really helps to occasionally turn up the transparency of the district overlay so you can see the underlying municipalities and geography. That helps to get a better sense of the map and avoid splitting communities of interest. 

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

I absolutely will. I've started six maps and only submitted two, because I often get better ideas or want to adjust my priorities. I will certainly try to beat my previous compactness scores, and I may also try to craft a map that prioritizes competitiveness.