Gerrymandering is a Maryland problem. Whether you see a pterodactyl, a pair of headphones, a rhinoceros beetle, or blood splatter, all eight Maryland congressional districts look like one thing: corruption.
Weird-shaped, corrupting, gerrymandered districts were first deemed problematic when they were named for Elbridge Gerry’s salamander district back in 1812. Instead of utilizing population numbers, geography, and civilization boundaries, these districts misrepresent their populations. They split apart groups in ways that disperse citizens’ collective voice, or pack a collective voice all into one district, limiting the range of the actual representation of that group. These tactics were challenged by the Supreme Court when used to dilute the collective voice of race-based groups, and were deemed unconstitutional.
Two hundred and six years after the salamander district, many Maryland legislators are refusing to address their residents’ Maryland-based gerrymandering problem, suggesting a “multi-state solution” instead.
Thankfully, a local Anne Arundel County legislator is looking to solve Maryland’s gerrymandering problem once and for all. Delegate Michael Malone (R, 33), along with a bipartisan cohort of 62 co-sponsors, introduced House Bill 1022 (HB1022), the Congressional District standards bill, which was first heard on 2/26.
HB 1022 proposes an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, calling for Maryland’s Congressional districts to be drawn so that each district would be “of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and be of substantially equal population,” with due regard given to “natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.” If it passes, the proposed amendment will be added to the Maryland ballot in November as a legislative referral referendum item.
When asked why she co-sponsored this bill, Anne Arundel County Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D, 21) said, “I believe that voters want fair elections and a choice on the ballot. They want their elected leaders to represent their communities – not to have their communities split up among multiple congressional districts.”
Delegate Malone has carefully scrutinized just how split up Anne Arundel County districts are. He notes that, “Four of Maryland’s eight congressmen represent some fragment of Anne Arundel, so Pasadena shares a congressman with Suitland in the 4th District, Edgewater with Pikesville in the 3rd District and Brooklyn Park with Aberdeen in the 2nd District.”
Malone names the shape of District 3 the Rhinoceros Beetle in his testimony for HB 1022 and also notes that many call it “the blood splatter.”
Many others came out to testify on behalf of the bill as well, including a group called “The Tame the Gerrymander Coalition.” The coalition is comprised of Common Cause MD, the League of Women Voters of MD, The National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section, RepresentMD, and No More Gerrymandering in Maryland.
Testifying on behalf of RepresentMD was Cristi Demnowicz. When asked why she feels that Gerrymandering is a problem in Maryland, she explained that, “If you look at our maps, they make absolutely no sense. I live in congressional district 3. It’s ridiculous how spread out it is. It’s impossible for me to organize or coordinate with district mates around issues. We are so spread out around areas.”
Demnowicz noted that she approves of the bill because it has a “clearly defined definition of what a congressional district should be” and puts the “decision into the hands of the voters.”
Other anti-gerrymandering efforts are occurring at the state and federal level. In addition to Delegate Malone’s bill, Governor Hogan introduced a bill proposing that districts be drawn by a 9 member independent redistricting commission, instead of by legislators. Congressman Sarbanes (D,3) is looking for a similar solution at the federal level. He has co-sponsored the Redistricting Reform Act that would require each state to create “independent, multi-party citizen redistricting commissions to conduct open and transparent statewide redistricting processes after each decennial census.” Two gerrymandering cases will be heard and decided by the Supreme Court this year: Gill v Whitford (argued on October 3, 2017), and the case concerning Maryland’s 6th District, Benisek v. Lamone. The Tame the Gerrymander coalition will be hosting a rally outside the Supreme Court when Benisek v. Lamone is heard on March 28th.
Rebecca Forte is an activist who believes in getting money out of politics. She lives in Severna Park.
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