In state capitals all over the country, political leaders and power brokers are already preparing for the nationwide redrawing of legislative and congressional districts in 2021.
In Pennsylvania, good government advocates are trying to bring citizens into that debate.
Last week, the civics education group Draw the Lines PA announced the 20 regional winners of its statewide election mapping competition.
Using open-source mapping software available on the campaign‘s website, high school and college students and adults were invited to submit their own legislative maps along with essays explaining the reasoning behind their decisions. The entries competed for cash prizes, with the 20 regional winners earning awards of $500 or $250.
The Pittsburgh area had winners in every category, including Jack Rosenthal, a ninth grader from Allderdice High School.
Our local entrants went all out: Pittsburgh resident Scott Friedman, another winner, filed a 19-page report with each of the two maps he submitted, giving nicknames to all of the districts.
The competition wraps up on Wednesday, when six statewide winners will be announced at an event in the state capitol rotunda in Harrisburg. Three of those winners will be awarded prizes of $4,500 and three will go home with $2,000. Check out all of the finalists and their stories here.
The judges include a wide variety of lawyers, politicians and educators.
Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, competition judge Fred Thieman, the chair for civic leadership chair with the Buhl Foundation and former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, stressed the bipartisan nature of the effort. He pointed out that the judges and steering committee are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
“This is something everybody wants to see done,” Thieman said.
The initiative was launched by the Philadelphia-based nonprofit the Committee of Seventy, which pushes for greater accountability and transparency in government.
“’Draw the Lines’ goal has been to help Pennsylvanians see how the plague of gerrymandering connects to the issues they care about most, and to embrace the vital role they can play in the solution,” said David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy.
“Digital technology now makes it possible for voters to play a direct role in drawing election districts,” he said. “The winning maps in our first contest make it clear that the people of our state are ready, willing and able to play that role.”
In recent years, gerrymandering has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in Pennsylvania state politics, and the battle has garnered national attention. In January 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that state and congressional legislative boundaries drawn in 2011 unfairly favored Republicans, leaving an estimated 85 percent of legislative districts uncompetitive.
The court instituted new districts in February, making dozens of previously safe Republican seats competitive in the midterm elections. While many in the state, especially Democrats, applauded the move, some observers have criticized the process for lacking transparency.
For this contest, transparency was the priority: “Our mappers showed their work,” said Chris Satullo, project director for Draw the Lines. “They declared the goals they had for their maps — unlike what happened either in 2011 or with the court-imposed map last year.”