It’s been a big year for combating gerrymandering in Pennsylvania.
With the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, Temple University graduate public policy students Jessica Maneely and Kathy Matheson decided to get involved.
The team entered the Draw the Lines PA competition, a civic engagement and education effort asking Pennsylvanians to redraw the state’s 18 congressional districts. They entered the competition for a class project for the Fall 2018 competition and were dubbed the regional winner in the Higher Education-East Division out of 318 maps statewide and were awarded a $500 prize.
The competition aims to get Pennsylvanians informed and active to prevent partisan gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating congressional district boundaries in favor of a political party. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the 2011 district map drawn by the Republican majority after it was found to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Because of this ruling, the districts near Main Campus were redrawn.
“The gerrymandering issue was top of mind for everyone, given the new districts that just came out last year, so it was just a cool experiment,” Maneely said. “In the [Master of Public Policy] program, we’re all pretty civically engaged, and we care about fair voting districts, especially in Pennsylvania.”
Maneely and Matheson worked together on the project in instructor David Thornburgh’s Politics, Policy and Public Leadership class in Fall 2018. Though Thornburgh required students to attempt to change the districts, they weren’t required to enter the competition.
Thornburgh has been the president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy since November 2014. The Committee of Seventy is a nonpartisan organization that promotes civic engagement in public policy.
Thornburgh created the initiative with Chris Satullo, the project manager for Draw the Lines PA, in 2016 to create a hands-on way to engage Pennsylvanians in improving the mapping process, inspiring the Draw the Lines competition.
Thornburgh made redrawing the map an assignment to emphasize leadership, he said.
“Sometimes, as a leader, you have to question the rules of the game, even though you may have benefitted from those rules yourself,” he added. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is this fair? Is this right?’”
Maneely and Matheson looked at the old Pennsylvania map and the redrawn 2018 map to decide how to redraw the lines. Ultimately, they decided to team up and combine their individual projects and keep equal population top of mind while drawing.
It’s important to address gerrymandering so people will continue to vote, Maneely said.
“We want to believe that our vote matters and we’re performing our civic duty and going out and voting in elections, local and national elections,” Maneely said. “But if a state is gerrymandered, our vote matters less.”
The judging is based on how logical the map was, whether competitors met their goals and how well they used the online tool DistrictBuilder, which uses metrics to analyze districts’ demographics, Satullo said.
The judging, split into three divisions of youth and secondary, higher education, and adult, went through three rounds. It started with 318 entries for the contest, Satullo added.
After the first elimination, 90 semi-finalists remained, which were then turned over to steering committees for the East, West and Central Pennsylvania regions.
State finalists were announced last Wednesday, and Maneely and Matheson’s drawing was not selected.
Pennsylvania district lines will change with the 2020 census, and the state is projected to lose a district. The Draw the Lines competition will then occur every semester until 2021, when new election maps will be drawn for state House and Senate, Satullo said. The next competition deadline is May 20 and will challenge participants to eliminate a district.
“With less competitive districts, it’s easy to get jaded and you don’t want a generation [to]…lose faith in the entire process and become totally uninvolved civically because that just has a spiraling outcome,” Maneely said.
But creating a logical, fair map was harder than she thought, Maneely said.
“It definitely illuminated the fact that this is not an easy task,” she said. “We give legislators a lot of grief over their choices, but it’s actually pretty hard to do.”