Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, according to the views of many, including Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican whose party is outnumbered seven to one in its delegation in the House of Representatives.
“For too long, fair elections and a healthy, strong, and competitive two-party system have been nearly impossible in our state,” Hogan said recently in a prepared statement. “This is about recognizing a problem and choosing to do the right thing to solve it.”
Hogan is proposing to create a constitutional amendment to take the power to draw all legislative districts — for congressional and General Assembly seats — out of the hands of the Democratic-controlled state legislature and place it the hands of an independent 11-member panel.
Federal standards require congressional districts to be contiguous, compact and proportional. States draw up the districts.
Hogan, who proposed amending the state Constitution on Jan. 26, began the process in August when he appointed seven members to a nonpartisan reform commission to go along with the two Democratic and two Republican members of the General Assembly who were appointed by the leadership of the state House and Senate.
Committee member Michael Goff, a registered Democrat who teaches political science at George Washington University, said gerrymandering hurts both parties because it makes elections less competitive.
“The real problem, in my opinion, is that the districts are so lopsided,” said Goff, who was appointed by Hogan. “Most people don’t care about one party or the other. They care about their congressman being responsible and accountable.”
Goff, who is also CEO of the research group Northeast-Midwest Institute, said that gerrymandering has plagued states around the country, leading to an overwhelming advantage for incumbents in Congress who run for re-election.
Goff said that the Maryland General Assembly cares more about “preserving their advantage in [Congress]” than representing the people, and that can be seen in the geographic boundaries of some districts.
He pointed to Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democrat John Sarbanes, as an extreme case of gerrymandering. It “stretches all the way from Baltimore to the hinterlands, and people in the hinterlands wanted a district that was more agricultural,” he said.
The governor’s idea has drawn bipartisan support in the General Assembly.
State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-District 20), who represents parts of Montgomery County and is running for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) seat in Congress, said he thinks the commission will be a “small step forward.”
“A seven-to-one split is definitely not a proportional allocation to the seats in our state,” he said. “The reason it’s been very tough to have progress on redistricting is because the party in control in the legislature has the power to make reforms but it has no incentives.”
Raskin thinks that gerrymandering has been the main force behind the “lynchpin of Republican control” in Congress.
“We have evolved into a system where politicians choose voters on redistricting day before voters choose politicians on Election Day,” he said.
Raskin has a redistricting plan of his own. It would combine the forces of Maryland and Virginia citizens in a single nonpartisan commission, known as the Potomac Compact. His rationale is that both states have legislatures and governors of opposing parties and the commission would advise officials in both states.
Raskin, who also teaches constitutional law at American University, said that states often enter into compacts with each other in order to conduct interstate commerce, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), which falls under the jurisdiction of both states along with the District of Columbia. He plans to introduce legislation in the coming week, he said.
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I would advise against this until the states whose legislatures are controlled by the other major party agree to simultaneously pass a similar amendment.