BERLIN — State redistricting officials this week released their recommendations for Maryland’s legislative district boundary lines with “radical” changes for the Lower Shore House of Delegate districts, including dividing Worcester County in half for the first time ever.
The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC) last Friday released its unanimous recommendations for the redrawing of Senate and House of Delegate legislative districts for the state, including a vastly different configuration for the Lower Eastern Shore. While the Senate District 38 remains largely unchanged, the old 38A and 38B House of Delegate districts have been carved from two to three, including the addition of a new 38C, which includes the north end of Worcester and a portion of eastern Wicomico.
The net result is a division of Worcester County into two distinct House of Delegate districts for the first time ever. Much of the north end of the county, including Ocean City, West Ocean City, Ocean Pines, Bishopville and Showell, for example, will comprise the new 38C district, if the plan is approved. However, the old District 38A includes Somerset County and much of the south end of Worcester County, with an arm extending northward along Route 113 to include much of Berlin.
The new District 38B is a small enclave in Wicomico concentrated around the Salisbury metropolitan area, in what appears to be deference to longtime District 38B Delegate Norman Conway. According to Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), the Lower Shore districts were redrawn by the controlling party in the state in order protect current and future seats in the House of Delegates.
“It looks like they threw it to the wind,” he said. “They took care of their own, and let the other pieces fall where they may. To me, it’s the height of technical gerrymandering and it diminishes the value of the vote.”
The population figures for the new districts appear to be within the prescribed thresholds. For example, the new District 38C, which includes the northern end of Worcester and part of Wicomico, includes 41,581 residents. District 38A, which includes the south end of Worcester and all of Somerset, comes in at 42,513, while the new 38B around Salisbury comes in at 42,567.
The net result of the proposed redistricting plan does not include an extra delegate for the Lower Shore, despite the new configuration. Currently, District 38B is represented by two Delegates, Conway and McDermott, while 38A is represented by James Otto. Under the proposed configuration, the Lower Shore will still have three Delegates, although the region will be divided into three distinct districts. Nonetheless, McDermott criticized the proposed plan for dividing Worcester and essentially creating a Salisbury district.
“District 38, the way it is drawn, represents a radical change,” he said. “They cut Worcester in half for the first time ever. I certainly would have liked to have seen Worcester and Somerset remain whole. It didn’t have to be drawn to this degree.”
According to the Maryland Department of Planning, the map recommended by the GRAC directly reflects the demographics of the state, the population trends that have occurred over the last decade and the extensive public comments the committee heard from hundreds in 12 public hearings across the state.
“Throughout this process, the committee made an extraordinary effort to take into account the many concerns and comments from experts and citizens from across Maryland,” said GRAC Chair Jeanne Hitchcock. “As chair of the committee, I believe the map we are submitting to the governor accurately reflects the population shifts and diversity of Maryland.”
House Speaker Michael Busch praised the proposed legislative district maps.
“The committee has worked diligently to create a fair map that incorporates the public testimony, adheres to the Voting Rights Act, adjusts for population and demographic shifts and respects county and municipal boundaries,” he said.
However, with Worcester divided into two districts and the Lower Shore divided into three, McDermott remains unconvinced with Busch’s latter assertion.
“To separate Worcester seems unreasonable to me,” he said. “I’ve already received a ton of calls and emails and folks out there are upset by this. Even though the county is diverse, we’re bound together by the same issues and relationships. When people in Worcester get together, whether it’s Berlin or Snow Hill, they talk about the same issues such as the schools or public safety. Why create a problem when it wasn’t necessary.”
A public hearing was scheduled for yesterday in Annapolis and the redistricting proposal will certainly get a lot of debate during the upcoming General Assembly session, but McDermott expects challenges.
“It’s just a proposal and it hasn’t been adopted yet,” he said. “Maybe there can be some changes to the map. I there aren’t some changes made, there will certainly be challenges. This may wind up in federal court before it’s over.”
See www.mdcoastdispatch.com for a color look at the proposed lower shore redistricting map.