Yes, it's mapping time again, Pennsylvania

Chris Satullo| February 4th, 2019

Let’s do this. Again. Draw the Lines PA is launching its second statewide citizen mapping competition. So log on and get mapping, Pennsylvania. Your deadline is May 31. Your challenge: Draw a 17-district congressional map of Pennsylvania. The rewards – civic, psychic and (possibly) fiscal – are substantial.

Wait, didn’t you just do this?

Why, yes, our first competition closed just before Christmas. We’ve announced our regional winners and are fixing to reveal the state champions Wednesday at the State Capitol.

So, why again, so soon? Give it a rest, maybe?

The academic calendar is DTL's driving rhythm, our backbeat. And it so happens that a new semester has dawned at high schools and college campuses.  New semester, new mapping challenge – every semester from now until 2021.

Why 2021?

Because that’s when new election maps get drawn - a new congressional map and two new state maps, for state House and state Senate.  These will guide the course of democracy in our state for a decade.

Recognize this: The status quo process for making those maps is just so messed up. Harrisburg has basically blown the task the last three chances it got: 1991, 2001, 2011. All three times, messy court fights ensued.

We think it’s time to let the people into the room, their values and common sense.  Time to let them have their fair say in how they want to be represented.  

Draw the Lines is a demonstration project for a simple proposition: The people of Pennsylvania are ready, willing and able to do this work.  Let them help draw the lines. 

So, OK, a new contest. But how did the first one go?

Last fall, in our first go-round, about 1,500 people tried their hand at doing an 18-district congressional map of Pennsylvania.  Eighteen is the current number. Essentially, we asked people to try to do a map that was better than what Harrisburg did in 2011 - or the one the state Supreme Court imposed last year.

Out of the 2,700 maps participants started, 318 worked out well enough to be entered in the competition and judged.  And at least 200 of them, maybe more, turned out to be clearly better than the "Goofy-kicks-Donald" mess Harrisburg gave us in 2011.

That was cool. But repetition gets boring.

So, this time, we’re doing some different things.  

Do tell. How so?

This time we’re daring you to draw a 17-district congressional map, because that’s likely the number of seats on Capitol Hill the state will get after the 2020 Census.

Prize money’s a little bigger this time, too. It’s still $500 and $250 for champs and runner-ups in our three regions (West, Central and East … imaginative, huh?). 

But the big state prizes in our three age groups – youth, higher ed and adult – will be bigger this time around: $5,000 for first, $2,500 for second.

Five grand? You have my interest. How do I do this?

Just go to our Draw a Map page, read the rules, watch the demo video and do the Flashes of Insight exercise to get your brain ready for the challenge.  Then log-on to the DistrictBuilder mapping tool.

I entered in Fall 2018, can I do it again?

Absolutely.  In fact, we hope you will. If you are like most people, each attempt you make will be better than the one before.  And each map you make is a new opportunity for a conversation about the issue with neighbors, co-workers, classmates or elected officials.

Is it difficult?

Well, it ain’t Angry Birds. To be honest, it’s challenging. It can take a few hours, maybe more if you really geek out. In fact, we suggest you do your map over several shorter sessions, rather than trying to do it all in one go. 

But know this: Students as young as 15 got the job done last fall – a few of them so well they’ll be winning big prizes next week.

As with any steep climb, it feels great when you reach the summit.

(Plus, we’ll give you plenty of support and tips along the way, if you want that.)

So draw a map and I’m done, just like that?

Not quite.  As important as the look of your map, and the metrics it generates, are to the judging, something else is vital. It’s the personal statement you write. (Or sing or chant or dance or recite or draw, doing it on video or audio or a canvas or a Powerpoint (well, no, not another Powerpoint – please?).) 

Just explain how you see your stake in democracy, what goals you had for your map, how you went about crafting a map that achieved them.  This is democracy, not a math test. Values matter.  Your thoughts matter.

I’m a gregarious person, not a loner. Can I do this with others?

You bet. We encourage team entries; a number of those won honors in the first go-round.  We also are holding events all over the state over the next four months, where you can meet other would-be mappers, talk over the issues, get tips and tricks, gain inspiration, and maybe form a team.  Check out our Events page to see what’s happening near you.

What’s that deadline again?

11:59 p.m. Friday, May 31.  That’ll give us time to evaluate all the maps and decide on winners before everyone heads to the Shore, the mountains or the pool for the summer.  The awards ceremony will probably come after Labor Day, though.

Is there a fee or other requirements to enter?

Nope, it's totally free, and the only requirement is that you be a living, breathing resident of Pennsylvania over the age of 13 (and it’s OK if you go to college out of state, as long as your legal address is in the Keystone State). 

Oh, yeah, there’s this: You can’t be part of the Draw the Lines team, a member of its steering committees or a staffer at its parent organization, the Committee of Seventy (or the relative of one of those types).  Ditto for any contractors working for DTL.

Anything else?

Yep, a big something else. Once you’ve got your map just where you want it, there’s one more thing we want you to do: Share it with your elected representatives in Harrisburg.  Tweet it, email it, snail mail it – or, best of all, visit them in the office to talk about it, about how gerrymandering bothers you and how you would like to see the map-making process changed.

OK, I’m ready.

Go for it!