We all know that numerous groups have rated Maryland the most gerrymandered state in the nation, and with good reason. Most of the state’s 8 US Congressional districts look worse than ink blots.
And if you look at other information about our Congressional Districts, you’ll discover something else quite interesting: Based on the 2010 Census, Districts 1-7 have populations of exactly 721,529 residents while District 8 has 721,528. The Supreme Court ruled in its 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision that voting districts must contain very close to the same number of people. But notice it didn’t say exactly the same number; likely something like a 10% deviation from the average would pass muster.
It’s fine to draw districts with such precision, except the precision is lost as soon as the next voter moves into or out of the district.
So why did Annapolis draw the Districts with such precision? My guess is that they wanted to make 100% certain that it could withstand any legal challenge claiming “unreasonable deviation” from the average.
But what it does result in is descriptions like this one for the 8th Congressional District: “Election District 5, precincts 1, 5 (part), 6 (part), 7 (part), 8, 9, 10 (part), 11, 13 (part), 14 (part), 16, 22.” The 8th also includes parts of Frederick and Carroll Counties, which also are burdened with ridiculous descriptions. Is it any wonder citizens lose faith in their representatives?
The basic geographic element in elections is the precinct, which are then gathered into election districts. Montgomery County has 13 election districts, of which 3 have undivided precincts, 7 have precincts spreading over 2 Congressional districts and 3 have precincts spread over 3 Congressional districts.
And throw in Maryland state legislative districts, School Board Districts and County Council districts and you have a real mess. By having overlapping precincts and districts of such variety, the possibility for the Board of Elections making mistakes increases.
Governor Hogan has set up a redistricting commission to examine the problem, issue a report and provide legislative language for enacting their recommendations. The commission is made up of 7 Marylanders who represent a wide variety of interests in the state such as the president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a former elected state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, a member of the board of directors of Common Cause Maryland, the president of the Baltimore NAACP, an administrator for the League of Women Voters of Maryland and a Bethesda business owner.
There are several free online applications for public use. For instance this one (bdistricting.com/2010/MD_Congress/) shows Maryland with compact districts.
Who is not supportive of this commission? The President of the Maryland Senate, the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and the Representative from Maryland’s 8th Congressional district—all Democrats.
We hope the governor’s new redistricting commission will provide recommendations to make representative government in Maryland truly representative.