How Carter Hanson ’23 engages in democracy

Ever since Carter Hanson ’23 arrived at Gettysburg in the fall, many of his longstanding interests culminated in gratifying experiences in the college setting.

The political science major quickly fell into his element after enrolling in a First-Year Seminar (FYS) entitled The Mathematics of Voting. For an assignment in the course, Hanson went on to win second place in the higher education Western division of the Draw the Lines competition for his congressional map.

During high school, the Boulder, Colo., native had always had a passion for election systems, but he sparked a specific interest in district lines when he started listening to a podcast series about gerrymandering. Intrigued by the electoral college system, he interned for Colorado State Senator Jessie Danielson.

“[For a while now,] I’ve been interested in gerrymandering and redistricting,” Hanson said. “With my background in learning about the nitty gritty of how elections work out and how campaigns are run, I’ve seen how important voting is.”

Jumping at the opportunity to broaden his understanding of the voting system in his First-Year Seminar, Hanson embarked on the mapping project—which Gettysburg’s involvement with has earned the College the Engagement Award—in an effort to learn more about a system he considers to be particularly crucial in today’s democracy.

Carter Hanson posing in the woods

Hanson’s award-winning map capitalized on competitive and compact districts, which he considers to be two of the key variables in drawing fair lines.

“Competitiveness is critical because democracy, in a sense, is really about the exchange of ideas,” said Hanson in his Draw the Lines personal statement that accompanied the map.

One moment in particular comes to mind when Hanson considers the importance of voting and participating in democracy: during this past fall semester, one of his professors asked the class to indicate by a show of hands how many students had voted. Only two out of 15 raised their hands, which initially caused him dismay and later sparked activism.

“I thought voting was very important for a long time, but just that tangible disappointment was a big moment,” he said. “We’re at such an incredible point in the history of our democracy, and we have to vote. That was the point where I [thought,] ‘Alright, I want to change this.’”

This critical moment, in part, inspired Hanson to continue looking into voter turnout and registration with the Kolbe Fellows Program this upcoming summer, advised by his First-Year Seminar instructor, Mathematics Prof. Beth Campbell Hetrick.

“[Prof. Campbell Hetrick] is a math professor, which is a little different than I’m used to because I came in with a political science background,” he said. “She was able to provide the more statistical, analytical side of gerrymandering and voting systems and really explain the theory behind all that, which was really helpful.”

A fan of the analytical processes of politics, Hanson could see himself following a path as a political journalist, focusing more on the statistical realm. Ultimately, he chalks up his love for the inner workings of politics to his internship with Senator Danielson, where he watched a Democratic senator win the majority and pass the Equal Pay for Equal Work act, among other bills.

“It was awesome because I was on the floor of the Senate when the [red flag bill] vote happened. It was really cool,” he said. “You can see how it goes from idea to actually changing the state. That’s why I’m into politics.”

Carter Hanson prepared to go skiing

At this point, nearing the end of his first year at Gettysburg, Hanson has already followed through on many other longstanding passions.

He started his own podcast called “The Pensive Anchor” that aired on Gettysburg College’s 91.1 WZBT radio waves for the fall 2019 semester. Now, episodes are available online. He also revived his interest in singing by joining Four Scores, Gettysburg’s co-ed a cappella group.

“It’s definitely a balance, but that’s one of the things I like most about college—the opportunity to be involved in all these different things—and it’s pretty much all self-driven,” Hanson said.

Hanson continues to prioritize his interest in political science through his involvement with political clubs on campus. Beyond his interest in gerrymandering, as seen in his Draw the Lines award, he also encourages civic engagement and voter registration among his friends.

“I feel like a lot of students are involved in political science or political activism in some way, but really, a prerequisite for all of that should be just to vote,” he said. “You can email and call your representatives and tell them to vote certain ways on different things, but ultimately, your most effective tool is going to be to vote.”

Discover how Gettysburg College has inspired generations of Gettysburgians to be civically engaged.

By Phoebe Doscher ’22
Photos courtesy of Carter Hanson ’23
Posted: 04/21/20