10:52 AM EST, March 7, 2014
In a few weeks, once the Maryland legislative session is over, the political winds in the state will turn to the 2014 elections. It will be about then that it will dawn on many voters that their legislative districts have changed.
Legislative redistricting has long been a confusing and often controversial matter, something that the state needs to do every 10 years after the census to realign districts based on shifts in the population. Trouble is, at least in the case of the state legislative districts, the governor in office has ultimate control over the outcome.
That's why you see oddly shaped districts drawn that allow for the party in charge to get favorable districts to strengthen their political power. The line, "To the victor goes the spoils," is used a lot. But as we've opined for years, Maryland's leaders have perfected the art of gerrymandering, and it's hardly justified.
Three bills before the legislature would change the process.. But one, from Howard County's Sen. Allan Kittleman, would take the power of the process from politicians and put it in the hands of a bipartisan panel that wouldn't include any party or elected officials. Kittleman's bill may come across as a bit naive, especially for a lame-duck Republican in a such a Democratically controlled Annapolis, but give him credit for trying.
It's actually a bill from a Democrat, Baltimore County Sen. Delores Kelley, that might be more palatable, though it would not create the dramatic changes that Kittleman's bill would. Kelley's bill would require that future redistricting proposals be presented as a bill to the legislature, rather than as a resolution. Doing so would mean that the proposal would call for hearings. A third bill, from Democrat Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone, would require maps be displayed online and in polling places. Both bills shine light on the process but guarentee little in changing the political nature of it.
The reality is that it seems unlikely that a legislature so dominated by one party would surrender power, even if it is to do the right thing. But it is good to know that at least a few state senators are trying.