It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.
While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.
But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”
As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.
While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.
But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.
In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.
Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.