September 25, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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End Gerrymaryland

Delegate Michael Malone
Delegate Michael Malone's picture
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March 6, 2018

Look, it's a Rorschach blot! It's a crazy quilt! It's a constipated dragon! It's definitely not Superman. It's a map of Maryland's congressional districts.

This year, I brought the fight against congressional gerrymandering back to the General Assembly, introducing House Bill 1022. This bill calls for Maryland’s congressional districts to be drawn so that each district would be “of adjoining territory, be compact in form and be of substantially equal population,” with due regard given to “natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.” Article three, section four of the Maryland Constitution mandates that state delegate and senatorial districts be drawn according to these standards, but Maryland’s constitution does not include Maryland’s congressional districts in that requirement.

The U.S. Constitution does not expressly address gerrymandering either - instead, legal challenges are usually brought through the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, colloquially known as the “one person, one vote” doctrine, which is often used to prevent racial and ethnic discrimination in drawing legislative districts, or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Should HB1022 bill pass, a proposed amendment to Maryland’s Constitution would be included on the November ballot, thus placing the gerrymandering issue squarely in the hands of Maryland voters.

If Maryland’s constitution applied the same standards to both state and congressional districts, that both be compact, include adjoining areas, and respect natural and political boundaries, Maryland’s current congressional district lines would be unconstitutional under Maryland law. Districts like Congressional District 3, in which one beetle antenna juts through Halethorpe, Baltimore City and Parkville, and another antenna juts through Odenton, Glen Burnie and Gibson Island, all from a rhinoceros beetle head in Montgomery County, would no longer be legal.

In the early 1970s, Maryland's constitution was amended to require such compact, respectful-of-boundaries districts for our state senators and delegates. Each decennial redistricting plan since has been challenged and reviewed by the Maryland's highest court, the Court of Appeals, so these standards have already been tested and interpreted by our own courts. In a landmark 2002 case, which my wife joined as a petitioner and I helped lead a protest on the courthouse steps, the Court of Appeals applied these same Maryland constitutional standards to invalidate gerrymandered districts all over Maryland. The Maryland Court of Appeals specifically found that border crossings — districts that cross county and other subdivision lines — fracture communities and representation. The court also recognized the danger of divided loyalties, when one legislator is representing different jurisdictions with different concerns. As then-Chief Judge Bell pointed out, "a fairly apportioned legislature lies at the very heart of representative democracy."

Congressional District 4, of which Severna Park and Arnold are a part, is a textbook example of how gerrymandering can make a region's voice hoarse. District 4 does not begin with the Chesapeake Bay, as Riviera Beach, Gibson Island and Cape St. Claire are in District 3. Instead, District 4 drifts west from Belvedere Heights and Lakeshore to Severna Park and Crownsville, then crossing Route 50 to include parts of Riva and Arnold. District 4 includes some of Crofton and Gambrills, but then leapfrogs much of the Crofton Triangle, Davidsonville, much of Bowie and eastern Prince George’s County, which are all looped into District 5 with Southern Maryland. District 4 is then linked through Laurel through the "ghost" precinct in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, which is populated with wildlife, not people, and then snakes south to hug the Washington Beltway, including Forest Heights, District Heights and Morningside.

It's easy to see that a Severna Park or Arnold resident, for example, may be more interested in easing Bay Bridge traffic, while a Laurel resident might prioritize public transportation into Washington, while a Capitol Heights resident might prioritize public safety concerns. It's just reality that Marylanders living in Olney or Owings Mills (District 3) may not care about traffic on Routes 50 and 97, or preserving the Magothy and Severn rivers (parts of which are also in District 3), or promoting small businesses in Anne Arundel County, as they have their own concerns. Fighting gerrymandering is about every person, every community and every county having a voice in their representation. Join Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and me in supporting HB 1022, and let's end GerryMaryland now.

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