HB 915


HB 915 Election Law - General Assembly and Congressional Legislative Districting and Apportionment Commission

POSITION: Support with Amendments

BY:  Susan Cochran, President

DATE: March 3, 2014

The members of the League of Women Voters of Maryland appreciate the effort of Delegate George and his co-sponsors to bring forth legislation that attempts to fix Maryland’s broken redistricting system.  Redistricting reform is among our highest priorities.  After a two-year study, members of the Maryland LWV adopted a position that supports action to assure a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation in the state legislature and in the House of Representatives with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny.  Our preference is for an independent redistricting commission and we commend Delegate George for seeking such a commission through his bill.

HB 915 states that legislative and congressional districts shall be established in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and Maryland Constitution.  Congressional districts would thus be subject to the requirements of compactness, contiguity or respect for political boundaries that apply to Maryland’s legislative districts.  This would indeed be quite an improvement in Maryland’s redistricting process.

We also support the effort of this legislation to create a redistricting commission with representation of major and minor political parties as well as unaffiliated voters.  HB 915 creates a redistricting commission with seven members, with the initially-appointed two Democrats and two Republicans selecting the remaining three members by majority vote.  We are concerned that it may be difficult to get a majority of votes from this equally split group of four, and support an amendment to establish procedures in the event the initially-appointed four members cannot agree on the remaining members.

Our most pressing concern with this legislation is that the proposed process does not provide adequate opportunity for public scrutiny or public input in the process.  We applaud the legislation’s requirement that meetings of the proposed commission be subject to state laws governing open meetings and access to public information.  However, we worry that allowing the commission to establish its own rules and procedures to govern its operations could result in a commission that does not consider proposed redistricting plans from the public or public input on the commission’s proposed plans.

Additionally, we are concerned that the Court of Appeals will be the final approving authority for redistricting plans.  A process that requires the judges of the Court of Appeals to approve all redistricting plans, in addition to their role in nominating the potential members of the commission, could have the effect of politicizing the judicial branch.

In summary, the redistricting commission suggested in HB 915 is a significant improvement over the troubling redistricting process in Maryland today.  However, our concerns with the legislation lead us to qualify our support and seek amendments.  The League has, for many years, enthusiastically supported a Redistricting Task Force or Study Commission.  We continue that effort in this session.  We believe that by studying the redistricting procedures and best practices in other states, Maryland legislators and citizens can learn much about the benefits and pitfalls of various methods and craft a process for Maryland that results in fair and effective representation of Marylanders by their legislative and congressional elected officials.