The Lead

To build ‘civic muscle,’ this group is giving out cash for citizen-drawn congressional maps

By: - February 6, 2019 1:24 pm

Marisa Nowicki’s award-winning congressional map. (Courtesy Draw the Lines PA)

Three dozen Pennsylvanians walked out of the Capitol Wednesday with a nice chunk of change, all for drawing maps.

The winners, divided by age and region, had participated in a political cartography contest run by Draw the Lines PA, a nonpartisan civic education group that asks commonwealth citizens to make their own congressional maps online. The top prize of $4,500 was given three winners in different age groups.

The organization is run by the Philadelphia good government group Committee of Seventy. Committee President David Thornburgh, son of former Republican governor Dick Thornburgh, said the goal of the contest was to prepare active citizens for the 2021 redistricting cycle.

With Pennsylvania projected to lose a congressional seat, that process could be particularly contentious.

“You can say we’re trying to build some civic muscle, some civic agility, so when the time comes there are plenty of people willing to step forward with some expertise to participate in that process,” Thornburgh said.

The contest, which ran from September to December, asked participants to submit a map drawn on the organization’s website and provide a personal statement on how and why they drew their district boundaries.

All told, Thornburgh said 1,500 people submitted 2,700 different maps. Of those, 317 were judged for prizes.

The 36 winners were picked by a panel of faith and community leaders as well as retired politicians, including former Gov. Mark Schweiker.

One of the winners was Marisa Nowicki, who took the first prize in the adult western division. A former congressional intern who now goes to the Heinz School of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Nowicki said her five-month stint in the House of Representatives made her “notice how gerrymandering, which supposedly helps those in power maintain power, was actually in some ways making it very difficult for them to do their job.”

Her map valued compactness and contiguity because of “their importance in achieving effective governing and fair representation,” according to the judges’ analysis of her work.

A second round of the contest, with a goal of drawing 17 instead of 18 districts, is planned to kick off soon. Those interested in participating can find more info here. The contest ends May 20.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.