Updated: Jul 22, 2022
By Liam Hoare and Samantha Delman
Let’s face it: all of us took US history at some point in time or another in middle or high school, but the only things that I can really remember are that there are three branches of government and that one song “Fifty Nifty United States,” which now unfortunately lives rent-free in my head. In eighth grade history class, out of boredom I taught myself how to french braid my own hair. I also sat in the front row, so I didn’t even attempt to hide my lack of interest - sorry about that, Ms. Hayes. So, what were you doing during your history class? Zoning out the window, staring at your crush, sticking your gum to the bottom of your desk, passing notes with your friends?
Everyone had different distractions in their history class, but if you’re like me, this left a huge gap in my education, which speaks to the structural failings of our education system. No one taught me about redistricting. And if you were lucky enough to learn about it, many students may never think about gerrymandering again. It is far too common that young Americans don’t know enough about the nuances and nitty-gritty details of how our government functions. That being said, for a generation who grew up with Google at our fingertips, it’s surprisingly difficult to find accurate, easily digestible information to fill those gaps in our education. That’s where we come in. Without further ado, we’d like to introduce ourselves. We are #VoteThatJawn, an organization that aims to bring 18-year-olds and other first-time voters to the polls— beginning a process toward full civic engagement. We’re here to teach you about redistricting, gerrymandering 101, and the power of your vote.
As you may (or may not) have learned in your history classes, each state has two senators, all of whom make up the 100 total seats in the US Senate. The other chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives, is made up of 435 members total. Although the total number of people in the House of Representatives never changes, the number of Representatives per state changes every ten years, after the census, based on shifts in population breakdown.
In my mind, I think of the House of Representatives as a chocolate cake. The cake is always the same size, and the amount of cake never changes. However, depending on the number of people who want a piece of cake, the size of cake slices can differ. When a census demonstrates a population increase in a state, that state receives a bigger piece of the cake, so that their representation in the government (and the cake) is proportional to the growing number of individuals in the state. Prior to the 2023 Congressional Map of Pennsylvania, the state of Pennsylvania had 18 districts. However, due to the information gathered from the 2020 census, shifts in population allocated only 17 districts for Pennsylvania for the new map. States with declining or stagnant populations often lose seats in the redistricting process for this reason exactly.
Although the House of Representatives’ cake size never changes, the amount of cake given to each state does, and this year, Pennsylvania got a smaller slice of chocolate cake than in previous years. Subsequently, the number of districts in PA and the number of PA representatives in the US House of Representatives shifted from 18 to only 17, and our interactive map serves to emphasize the examples of change and continuity that accompanied that redistricting process. In each state, the number of Senators (2) plus the number of Representatives (equivalent to number of Congressional districts and varies by state) are also equivalent to the number of electoral votes in that state. If you’re still curious about the distribution of electoral votes, check out this link to the National Archives to learn more.
Liam Hoare is a gay Miami native currently studying Political Science at UPenn with an interest in race and ethnic politics.
Samantha Delman is a Georgia native with a passion for freelance journalism, photography, and social media content creation as a tool for political communications and voting rights activism.