Issue Paper January 2022
Redistricting Reform in Maryland
Article I Sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years to redraw electoral districts. The Maryland General Assembly (MGA) has adopted congressional maps during a December 2021 Special Session, giving little voice to voters in local communities. We expect the MGA to adopt its legislative maps during the 2022 Regular Session in a similar fashion. The League of Women Voters of Maryland advocates for Maryland to adopt a truly independent redistricting commission. We believe that including voters, especially communities of interest, in a fair and transparent redistricting process is best to advance democracy in Maryland.
LWV Position on Redistricting
In 2004, the League of Women Voters of Maryland studied and reached a consensus position on Maryland’s redistricting process: Action to assure a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation in the state legislature and House of Representatives with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny.
The LWVUS has additional standards, including:
The standards on which a redistricting plan is based must be enforceable in court, require substantially equal population, geographic contiguity, and effective representation of racial and linguistic minorities, provide for the promotion of partisan fairness, preservation and protection of “communities of interest,” and respect for boundaries of municipalities and counties. Compactness and competitiveness may also be considered as criteria so long as they do not conflict with the above standards. The standards must explicitly reject protection of incumbents and preferential treatment for a political party through such devices as considering party affiliation, voting history, and candidate residence.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires states to create legislative districts of substantially equal populations based on the fundamental principle of democracy: one person, one vote. Additionally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restricts states from using the redistricting process to dilute the power of minority voters.
The Maryland Constitution directs the governor to present a draft state legislative map. However, the General Assembly may consider any map proposed by its members. While the MD Constitution is silent on congressional districts, the forty-seven Maryland Senate districts must “consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population.” Each senatorial district also has three delegates, representing one-third of the population in a single-member district. Alternatively, a community may be divided into one single-member and one multi-member district. Maryland is only one of ten states to allow this, which can result, in some cases, in more representation of women and people of color.
Following the 2010 Census, the Maryland legislative and executive branches were controlled by the Democratic Party, allowing them to draw districts to their own advantage. The Maryland Constitution does not address congressional districts, leaving only those standards established by the Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect voters. In Lamone v. Benisek (2019), plaintiffs argued that the congressional maps represented a partisan attempt to dilute Republican votes. Deciding the Maryland case jointly with Rucho v. Common Cause of North Carolina (2019), the Supreme Court declared that there was no constitutional basis for the federal courts to rule on a matter of partisan gerrymandering, leaving the issue to state legislatures and state courts.
The 2021-2022 Redistricting Process
While Governor Hogan created a multi-partisan Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission in 2021, the General Assembly established its own Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission. Both commissions produced congressional and legislative maps. In a December 2021 Special Session, the MGA adopted the LRAC congressional map, the Governor vetoed the bill, and the MGA overrode his veto. We expect a similar result for the LRAC legislative maps during the 2022 General Session.
LWVMD 2021-2022 Strategies
Strategy 1: Advocating for Legislative Maps that Protect Communities
We have testified to the MCRC and LRAC extensively during 2021, and will do so again as their maps are presented during the General Session. However, the new information we can provide may be limited to comments on single- versus multi-member districts and elevating new third-party, non-partisan assessments on the final LRAC map. We encourage Local Leagues to assess the impact of proposed legislative maps and apprise members of areas of concern. League members can sign up to testify as individuals (not representing the League) and we encourage you to do so. Support for writing testimony can be found at: CHARGE Redistricting Hub
We continue to monitor redistricting bills in the MGA that focus on county commissioners and school boards. In 2021, LWVMD supported HB655 Local Elections - County Commissioner and County Boards of Education - District Voting, proposed by Delegate Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) affecting five rural counties and Montgomery County. HB655 would have changed the majority-selected process for electing commissioners to require each commissioner to be elected by a majority of voters in their district. Montgomery County may propose a bill to similarly change their Board of Education process, the only one affected by this. Sadly, some local Leagues have reported that counties that would have been affected by HB655 have gerrymandered their Commission districts for the first time in 2021.
Strategy 2: Reforming the Process for 2030 and Beyond
In previous sessions of the MGA we have supported a constitutional amendment, such as the bills proposed by Former Del. Malone (R-Anne Arundel), to establish a truly independent redistricting commission. Sen. Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) proposed a bill in 2020, The Fair Maps Act, to create statutory limitations on congressional districts and protections for communities of interest. These bills came before the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee but did not get out of committee.
Maryland needs legislation or a constitutional amendment to establish a truly independent redistricting commission and to place limits on congressional districts for the future. We now have additional examples of what makes independent commissions successful (California and Colorado) and what does not (Virginia). Additional advocacy and a new study is appropriate.
Strategy 3: Judicial Action
Maryland’s congressional map will be law, unless the plaintiffs in two lawsuits already filed in Maryland courts prevail. Without federal recourse for partisan gerrymandering, these cases will likely be decided in the Maryland courts. We will continue to participate in discussions for this scenario by Tame the Gerrymander/The People’s Maps Maryland coalition for a joint strategy, including drawing a coalition map to guide the Court.
Strategy 4: Supporting Reform at the Federal Level
In addition to participating in the LWVUS People Powered Fair Maps campaign, we encourage members to support federal advocacy efforts. The LWVUS supports the Freedom to Vote Act that includes criteria for independent commissions and would reduce gerrymandering. The League also supports the restoration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Learn more about protecting voting rights at LWV.org.
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