My Journey into Redistricting: Part 1/2

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Many have expressed interest in me sharing what I’ve learned about redistricting over the past year. It all began in Sept. 2010 as I looked ahead toward the election of people to serve in our State capital and in Washington DC. It struck me that many of the boundaries did not make sense.

For instance, was it really necessary for one voting precinct (likely to have a maximum population of 3,000) to be separated from the other 346,497 county residents in the Congressional district? Was that really helping to represent them? Was law such an enemy of the people?

The First Four Months:

So my exploration began. My first stop was at our State Constitution. It said that political subdivisions should only be split when absolutely necessary. Was this an absolutely necessary situation? The “absolutely necessary” clause, it turned out, applied to making districts of equal population. But was is the definition of equal?

My quest for answers led me to my next stop: historical legislative district records. Going all the way back in time to when our constitution was first created, I looked at district sizes for 1793, 1900, and 1807 (back then, censuses were done more often).

What I found was startling – equal was a rather liberal term then. For instance, if 1.5% was the target size, the districts might range from 1% to 2%. In one case, districting ranged from 4% to 7%. The historic definition of equal seemed a lot more liberal than what we used today.

I noticed that in early State Senate districts, a multi-member system was used and that a County was only permitted or geographic area was only allowed to elect 1 Senator each election cycle. If the population rose to the point where it required them electing 2 senators in an election cycle, they would need split.

With equal population given a historic definition, I next tracked down the population estimates for 2009 (the 2010 Census results would not be available for another several months). I set about trying to create a map that allowed all other considerations to be subservient to the preservation of political subdivisions (Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Townships, Wards).

Map Making Begins:

The simplest way seemed to start by trying to preserve County boundaries. Using population totals was confusing – just too many numbers to track and add. It was easier to put all counties on an even playing field using an apportionment system.

I took the State population and divided by the number of State Senate districts (50). Now I knew that, in a perfect world, every district should contain 254,956 people. Next I took the 254,956 and divided each county’s population into that number. So Adams was .40; Butler was .72, etc.

It was pretty tricky to find a map with just the county outlines but I finally tracked one down that met the purpose. I then wrote in side each county their State Senate apportionment number. So .40 went inside Adams, .72 went inside Butler.

Now I started linking counties into groups with their apportionment numbers adding up to a whole number. It took some trial and error because you’d think it was all working out but then end up with some leftovers. My eraser saw good use.

At last, I had every county in relatively equal regions. So it appeared like the splitting I had observed in September would not be necessary.

Moving on from the State Senate, I tried the same thing with our 18 US Congressional seats (those are the people that go to Washington DC). It seemed to work really well there.

Finally I tried it out with the 203 State House districts and found it worked at a county level for them as well (I’d not gone down to any further levels yet since data would change soon).

Keep reading! This story is continued in Part 2.

Next articleMy Journey into Redistricting: Part 2/2
Amanda began delving into the subject of redistricting in October of 2010 on her quest to know why. Helped by a love of puzzles, attention to detail, and a great deal of persistence, her efforts eventually led her to a historic victory before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She documents her journey at AmandaE.com, inspiring others through numerous presentations across the state. The recipient of several honors, her work has also been featured in every major Pennsylvania newspaper, making headline news in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

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