Redistricting Referendum Seeks to Strengthen Democratic Control of State - Southern Maryland Headline News

Redistricting Referendum Seeks to Strengthen Democratic Control of State


By CAITLIN JOHNSTON

ANNAPOLIS—Rep. Roscoe Bartlett understands, politically, why they did it.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Republican Congressman thinks the Democratically drafted redistricting map for Maryland is “outrageously unconstitutional” and “amoral.”

Question 5 on Tuesday’s ballot asks Marylanders to approve a congressional redistricting map that Bartlett and others say was drawn to weaken him and protect Democrats in a Democratic state.

Redistricting happens every 10 years following the census. The Constitution, as reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, requires states to redraw boundary lines making sure there is roughly the same population in each area where a representative is elected.

A vote for the referendum is a vote to approve the map.

The most recent census numbers showed that about 174,000 Marylanders needed to be shifted to rebalance the districts, said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College.

“Instead, we dramatically redrew the lines and it ended up placing 1.7 million people in different districts, about 10 times what was necessary,” Eberly said. “The Constitution requires it, but the political parties exploit it.”

Despite initially supporting the map last fall, many Democrats are joining their Republican counterparts in opposing the referendum and the proposed map.

“The redistricting came out of a smoke-filled backroom in Annapolis where a very small number of elected officials took the crayons and drew the districts in a way that benefited their friends,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat. “The public interest of allowing citizens to speak with collective voices to their elected representatives is damaged when you have this gerrymandering.”

Under the proposed map, about 45 to 48 percent of Bartlett’s district this election is new constituents. Appealing to that many new voters is a challenge not usually faced by an incumbent seeking his 10th term in office.

“They’ve thrown people together who have no common interest,” Bartlett said. “Democrats want to use what opportunity they have to extend their control when they outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.”

If the map fails, nothing is changed about the outcome of the elections and the current districts stand. But O’Malley and the General Assembly will have to draft a new map for approval before the next election. And whoever wins on Tuesday could be running in a different district two years from now.

While O’Malley has previously said he would propose a similar map if this one failed, both Franchot and Bartlett find that unlikely.

“They’re going to find it hard to send the same map back again,” Franchot said.

The map was created by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, an entirely Democratic body. The state’s plan created two majority African-American districts, ignoring proposed amendments by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, and others which drew up three minority districts.

The most notable alteration is District 3, which is currently held by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes and includes northwest and northeast suburbs of Baltimore, a northwest suburb of Washington and the city of Annapolis. Appellate Judge Paul Niemeyer called the district “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the State.”

A recent redistricting study by Azavea, a non-partisan geospatial analysis (GIS) software development company, found the district to be the third least compact in the nation.

“There is no doubt that part of the district is affected by the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay,” the study said. “However there is seemingly no other reason for the district to snake through various communities in three different metropolitan areas the way it does.”

Despite the strong political opposition to the referendum, there has been limited money and advertising done to educate voters on Question 5.

More than $85 million has been spent on trying to sway Maryland voters on an unusually competitive referendum ballot this election. Advertisements about gambling, the Dream Act and same-sex marriage flooded the airwaves the past two months.

But relatively little has been said about what Eberly calls the most important issue on the ballot.

“We’re a representative democracy,” Eberly said. “There’s nothing more fundamental to America than people being able to select representatives who can speak for them. If we undermine the process by which we select our representatives, we essentially undermine the entire foundation of our system of government.”

The limited attention paid to Question 5 could affect the referendum at the ballot box, though, as uninformed voters have a tendency to vote “no” on an issue, Eberly said.

The past month has also seen an increased number of Democrats, such as Franchot and several in Montgomery County, speaking out against the map. And their opposition has lent some publicity to an otherwise overlooked issue, Eberly said.

“Far more than anybody ever expected, this has become a completely nonpartisan issue,” Eberly said. “The only voice you hear is in opposition to it. No one is out there defending the map mainly because no one can defend it.”

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