We support these bills that could make redistricting reform a reality for Maryland:
HB 43/SB 90 Elections - Legislative and Congressional Redistricting and Apportionment - Commission and Process
HB 67 Potomac Compact for Fair Representation
SB 110 Congressional Districts – Standards
HB 463 Congressional – Standards (Anti Gerrymandering of Maryland’s Congressional Districts)
One Goal, Many Models: Comparing and Contrasting the Three 2018 Ballot Initiatives
On Nov. 6, three additional states – Michigan, Colorado and Missouri – provided for non-partisan redistricting, by amending their state constitutions. The victory margins were overwhelming: on average, thirty points. All proposals aim to produce credibly non-partisan plans, but they differ in the details regarding selection process for the commission, criteria for creating maps, the map-drawing process, and the final approval process. (For the proposal texts, and other information on this issue, go to https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/redistricting-reform-resource-center)
SELECTING THE COMMISSION: Radical Divergence
- Michigan: Managed by the Secretary of State. Randomized invitations to apply lead to three screened pools, totaling 200. With input from the 4 legislative party leaders, 13 Commissioners are randomly selected: 4 from each party, plus 5 independents. The process must employ statistical methods that ensure representativeness.
- Colorado: Managed by a panel of three retired judges who must act unanimously. Open application creates an initial pool of up to 1050 and three screened pools totaling 150. With some input from the 4 legislative party leaders, 12 Commissioners are selected: 4 from each party, and 4 without party affiliation.
- Missouri: Party committees in each of the 8 congressional districts nominate commissioners. The Governor selects from those lists, creating a 16-member Commission, evenly split between the two parties.
LISTING CRITERIA: Strong Convergence
- All three states require that the new maps 1) contain equal populations; 2) be contiguous; 3) conform to the Voting Rights Act; 4) respect political subdivision boundaries; 5) be compact; and 6)maximize competitiveness. Michigan and Colorado list them in this order, and there’s a strong presumption that where criteria clash, the first-listed criterion takes precedence.
- Michigan and Colorado explicitly call for respecting “communities of interest” (COIs).
- Missouri’s list includes efficiency (defined as minimizing “wasted votes”). Indeed, this criterion ranks third, just behind equal population and the VRA.
CREATING THE MAPS: A Missouri Innovation
- Missouri’s proposal creates a non-partisan state demographer. Application is open to all. The state auditor presents a screened candidate pool to the Senate majority and minority leaders. Unless they agree on a candidate, the state auditor randomly selects from the pool. This officer then creates maps and presents them to the Commission, which may make only those changes consistent with the stated criteria.
- In Colorado and Michigan, non-partisan Commission staff prepare maps. Both states explicitly dictate a high level of transparency and public participation – in Colorado, including more than two dozen public hearings.
APPROVING THE MAPS: Incentivizing Compromise
Research supports the conclusion that to succeed, a redistricting process must build in incentives for negotiation and compromise. These structures emerge prominently in the rules for approving maps at the very end of the process. Colorado requires 8 votes, from the 8 commissioners from the parties and the 4 independents. In Michigan, a simple majority suffices – but with the proviso that at least 2 from each of the original three pools must approve. Missouri has the highest vote threshold: 70% approval is needed.
Our Say: While Frosh appeals gerrymander ruling,
Hogan and Busch should seek a solution
Attorney General Brian Frosh should have let stand the recent federal ruling tossing out the state’s congressional map for the 6th District, giving Maryland the chance to create a process that will get past the national conundrum of gerrymandered districts.
Instead, the Democratic attorney general, acting against the wishes of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, notified the U.S. District Court in Baltimore Thursday that he will contest last week’s order that the state redraw the map in time for the 2020 elections.
Frosh argued it would be unwise for Maryland to begin drawing a new map when the Supreme Court could adopt a different standard in a North Carolina gerrymandering case that is apparently heading to the top court.
We understand the rationale. Reform of congressional redistricting is a national issue. Maryland Democrats, if they move ahead with some kind of reform alone, would be giving away power at the national level.
A three-judge panel found that the state’s Democratic leaders in 2011 crossed a constitutional line in trying to protect that power, redrawing congressional district lines with the goal of “flipping” the western Maryland district from Republican to Democrat.
The lower federal court gave the state until March 7 to come up with a new map, which could affect just the 6th District — but to us seems likely to set off a domino effect that will touch Anne Arundel County. If Maryland fails to produce a new map under that daunting deadline the court would put the job in the hands of a three-member commission.
Anne Arundel voters are rightly tired of a national political strategy that has rendered the county a victim of gerrymandering for decades. The county is divided among four Democratic majority districts that dilute its historic pattern of voting Republican in national elections.
Two of the architects of the current map are House Speaker Michael E. Busch, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both Democrats.
Busch has said that Maryland could go to something like a nonpartisan process — supported by critics of the current process as likely to generate a fairer map — as part of some regional agreement with Republican-leaning states. But he doesn’t want the state to go it alone.
Again, we understand the rationale. Maryland is no worse than North Carolina or other states where Republicans have done exactly the same thing to their congressional maps.
Yet we think Busch and Hogan have a historic opportunity here — a Democratic leader whose majority party just increased its numbers in the House and a wildly popular Republican governor — to propel this issue forward, dragging Miller with them.
Frosh’s appeal does not prevent the speaker and the governor from finding a compromise that revamps the redistricting process in anticipation that the Supreme Court will either reject Maryland’s appeal or fail to provide the guidance the attorney general is seeking — or worse, provide guidance that could be worse than the current mess.
Busch and Hogan, both residents of a county carved up by gerrymandering, could be the ones to find a Maryland solution. We urge them to seek it.