Let’s End GerryMaryland

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Rorschach blots were developed a hundred years ago to test for mental illness, schizophrenia in particular, and long ago were supplanted by more effective assessments. They live on, unfortunately, as the image of gerrymandered congressional districts. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream even has a “Gerrymandered District or Inkblot Test” on its website – with Maryland’s 3rd congressional district, colloquially known as the “broken-winged pterodactyl,” as question number one.

Redistricting – redrawing congressional and state legislative lines – occurs every 10 years to accommodate shifts in population documented by the U.S. Census. Gerrymandering is redrawing those lines for political advantage, whether to elect more members of a political party or protect political incumbents. Either way, your vote matters less.

Maryland has eight congressmen spread across its 23 counties; Anne Arundel County is, in the words of Governor Larry Hogan, carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey among four of those eight districts. Anne Arundel is represented by Dutch Ruppersberger from Baltimore County in District 2, John Sarbanes from Baltimore County in District 3, Anthony Brown from Prince George’s County for District 4, which includes Severna Park, and Steny Hoyer from St. Mary’s County in District 5. In short, decidedly two-party Anne Arundel County, Maryland’s fourth most populous county, is represented in Congress exclusively by Democrats from other jurisdictions. Anne Arundel County is turkey, and Republicans aren’t welcome at the table.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Benisek v. Lamone, a case from Maryland seeking to bar enforcement of the gerrymandered congressional map, that redistricting reform is a matter left to the states. Therefore, to combat gerrymandered districts in Maryland at both the state and congressional levels, I have again introduced several bills into the House of Delegates.

House Bill 339 addresses state legislative districts, and would require that redistricting maps be drawn without regard to political affiliation or voting patterns. This language is derived from the federal district court opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, which had ruled that Maryland’s congressional district maps violated Marylanders’ constitutional rights. House Bill 1260 would require that Maryland’s congressional districts be drawn according to the same standards as its legislative districts: they would have to be drawn compactly and with regard to natural and community boundaries. Like House Bill 1260, House Bill 410 also would require that Maryland’s congressional districts be drawn according to the same standards as its legislative districts, but it adds the requirement that the lines be drawn without regard for voting patterns and political affiliation.

All three of these bills are being heard by the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, chaired by Democrat Anne Healey. Testimony on two of the bills – HB 339 and HB 410 – was heard on February 22; a hearing date on HB 1260 has not been scheduled. A committee vote has yet to occur. If you wish to testify on HB 1260 or any other bill, you must sign up at www.mgaleg.maryland.gov between 8:00am and 3:00pm two business days in advance of the hearing (please call my office at 410-841-3510 if you need assistance in witness sign-up). In years past, signing up to testify was not required, but thanks to COVID committee hearings, are being held virtually this year. Be aware, however, that the hearings on HB 339 and HB 410 were not scheduled two full business days before the hearing, giving interested parties only a few hours to sign up to testify.

The General Assembly has been dragging its feet on redistricting reform, even though Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation and is the subject of the Benisek decision. It is simply appalling that our legislative leaders openly admit in court proceedings to partisan redistricting aimed at keeping incumbents in power and disenfranchising voters for political reasons and get away with it. Other states are adopting independent, partisan-balanced commissions similar to that proposed by Governor Hogan and are adopting or expanded language like that in our state constitution to restrict partisan gerrymandering. Nonetheless, redistricting reform legislation, whether proposed by myself, Governor Hogan, or others, has routinely been killed without even being submitted to the entire General Assembly for a vote.

Let’s end the schizophrenia – the withdrawal from reality – of Rorschach inkblot legislative districts. Let’s end GerryMaryland.

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