Recognizing that the 2000 redistricting process in Maryland had failed to draw districts that fairly and adequately represented the citizens of the state, in 2001 the League of Women Voters of Maryland began a two-year study of the redistricting process in Maryland and in other states.
At the conclusion of this process in 2004, League members adopted a position in support of a redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation and one that provides maximum opportunity for public scrutiny. The position adopts substantially equal population, geographic contiguity and geographic compactness as the standards on which a redistricting plan should be based for legislative and Congressional redistricting. Our position professes a preference for an independent redistricting commission as the redistricting body, with final approval of the plans by the General Assembly.
The League considers redistricting reform a priority all the time, unlike others who are reactive to the process every ten years. At every possible opportunity since adopting their position, League members have testified before and lobbied our state elected representatives to reform the redistricting process in Maryland, with no success. The reaction of Maryland legislators to our testimony and lobbying has been at best indifference and at worst amusement. During the past ten years, Republican legislators were not interested in reform because for a while they anticipated they might have the Governorship and be in charge of the process during the next cycle. Democratic legislators do not want to change the process because past redistricting shenanigans got them elected so they find no fault with the process.
So, in 2011, using the same process as before, the same results have occurred: a bizarrely drawn Congressional redistricting plan that maximizes political strengths of the majority party and fails to provide adequate representation to much of the state’s population. The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee transformed relatively minor population increases and decreases throughout the state into major shifts of population from district to district. Making no effort to address comically drawn districts of the 2000 redistricting cycle, several of which are consistently listed among the worst drawn districts in the country, the Committee has instead created additional districts that are irrational in shape and appear to have only incumbent protection as their purpose. The only valid reason for stretching the size of a district and thus losing the goal of compactness would be to reach the desired population levels. Achieving the appropriate population level was clearly not the reason for the attenuated districts 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8. Instead the crafters were clearly trying to reach the desired mix of voters. Additionally, the map as presented may affect adversely the voting strength of racial minority populations in several instances, in contradiction to the one of the few limiting restrictions placed upon line-drawers – the federal Voting Rights Act.
We appreciate the efforts of the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee to hold multiple hearing around the state to allow Maryland citizens the opportunity to share input on redistricting. However, the League’s position calls for public scrutiny of the process, not merely public input. Without providing any information about where potential changes might be made to current district lines, or draft maps on which to comment, the public hearings offer only an opportunity to express vague wishes with respect to new boundaries. The public would be better served with an opportunity for general comments at the beginning of the process, followed by a series of hearings on the proposed plan, to allow for comments that would address specific aspects of the proposed changes to district boundaries.
The process of redistricting is complicated and will always be a political process. The League of Women Voters is a staunchly non-partisan organization, operating in an aggressively bi-partisan reality. We understand that the uncivil political discourse of our time, and the inability of our Congress to adopt rational legislation to address pressing needs of our country, is a direct result of political gerrymandering that has taken place in the states, including Maryland, for decades. When politically safe boundaries are drawn and the incumbent party is assured re-election, candidates whose only battle is in a primary election take positions from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, either the left or the right. These candidates have no incentive to appeal to independent voters or voters of another political party by compromising hard, party-line positions to be reelected. Once elected, they have no motivation for bipartisan cooperation, even if it is in the best interests of their constituents.
Maryland’s Governor and legislators should assess the responsibility for their role in creating a dysfunctional Congress and accept the proposition that just because you can create such boundaries, does not mean you should. The Maryland Constitution contains specific redistricting standards for legislative districts, but is silent on requirements for Congressional redistricting. Limited only by a population equality requirement and Supreme Court precedent, the Maryland legislature is legally free to create ugly, unrepresentative political boundaries. But in the best interests of Maryland’s citizens, we urge the General Assembly to adopt a Congressional redistricting plan that respects the right of minorities and makes a good faith effort to allow citizens the opportunity to vote for candidates who have the will and ability to represent the interest of all their constituents.