Congressional Redistricting Plan Leaves Shore Intact

BERLIN — State lawmakers this week approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s submitted redistricting map for congressional districts in Maryland, but already there appear to be challenges to the plan forthcoming that could settle the issue in the court system.

Based on the population changes that came out of the 2010 U.S. Census, the state of Maryland is in the process of redrawing the boundaries of its eight congressional election districts. Because the state’s primary election has been moved up to April 3 in 2012, state lawmakers were forced to meet in a special session this week to expedite the redistricting process.

Following a series of public input sessions around the state, the governor’s advisory committee prepared and submitted to O’Malley a new map of the state’s eight congressional districts, redrawing the lines to reflect the population changes. O’Malley introduced the proposed map during the special session this week and it was quickly approved by both the Senate and the House, although the votes clearly went along party lines.

For example, in the Senate, the governor’s map was approved by a 33-13 vote, meeting the three-fifths requirement of 29 votes. Voting yes for the plan were 33 Democratic Senators and zero Republicans. All 12 Republican Senators voted no and one Democratic Senator broke ranks and voted no.

On the House side, the vote was 91-46 in favor of the governor’s map, meeting the three-fifths requirement of 85. All 41 Republican delegates votes against the plan, while just one Democratic crossed party lines and voted no.

Maryland’s first congressional district, which, for the last 10 years has included the entire Eastern Shore along with pockets of Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, was altered slightly, with areas in Anne Arundel dropped and an area in Carroll County added. One proposed plan had the three counties of the Lower Shore, including Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset, added to Southern Maryland, but the end result kept the Eastern Shore intact.

“When we went up to testify at the hearing in Salisbury, we expressed a desire to keep the Eastern Shore together and we were able to do that with this plan,” said Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38). “The district does reach up to areas of Harford and Carroll counties, and there are those who will ask what does Carroll County have in common with Ocean City or Crisfield, for example, but it really has a lot in common because of its rural, agricultural nature.”

Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) agreed keeping District 1 largely intact was a priority for Eastern Shore lawmakers. McDermott said the subtle changes probably improve the largest geographical voting block.

“District 1 has probably been strengthened as far as the Eastern Shore goes,” he said. “I think it’s a stronger, more conservative district.”

Throughout the process, there have been accusations of gerrymandering against the majority party and more than a few hints of legal action against the approved map. Much of the consternation has come out of District 6, where roughly 300,000 voters were carved out of Montgomery County and added to the predominantly Western Maryland district. McDermott said this week the approved map will almost certainly be challenged.

“So, once again, Maryland will see the redistricting process moved through the courts as many oppose the gerrymandering and overtly political process that has produced such a terrible product,” he said. “No map is perfect, but the alternative maps offered would have gone a long way to providing all Marylanders with a meaningful vote at the polls.”

Mathias, however, said the approved map is balanced and equitable, despite the misgivings of some, and should continue to allow fair representation for all Marylanders.

“Like somebody said during the hearings, if two U.S. Senators can represent the entire diversity of the state of Maryland, then we’re pretty confident eight [Congressional] representatives can do it,” he said.

McDermott said the greatest debate during the special session this week had more to do with the constitutionality of the map than the specific district lines.

“The state constitution calls for the districts where possible to include contiguous land, follow political boundaries and have a certain compactness,” he said. “This map is devoid of any of that. Nobody is suggesting the map be pretty, but it should follow the rules laid out in the state constitution.”

While it remains to be seen if the redistricting of the congressional district holds up, the General Assembly won’t take up the issue of redistricting the legislative districts in the state until the regular session early next year.

Mathias said there were subtle population shifts in the Lower Shore districts, which could force some boundaries to be redrawn, but didn’t expect any substantive changes.

“When people call my office, we work for them,” he said. “We don’t ask what their party is or how they voted last time around. Just show me the district and let me go to work.”