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News Opinion

Against Question 5

Maryland's congressional maps are a product of the politicians, for the politicians, by the politicians. They were born of the two competing desires of the state's Democratic Party bosses: to give incumbent Democrats the precincts they want to make their re-election efforts easier, and to put one of the state's two Republican-held congressional seats at risk. They achieved their goals — Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is facing his first serious challenge in years, and none of the incumbent Democrats is breaking a sweat. But they did so by producing an ink splotch of a map that joins together communities that have nothing in common.

The only coherent arguments proponents of the map can make for it are that this redistricting effort simply built on the old maps, which were also convoluted; and that what Maryland Democrats pulled off is no different from what, say, Texas Republicans did.

The virtue of working from the basis of the old maps, proponents say, is that two-thirds of voters will stay in the same districts. Starting from scratch, they claim, would lead to confusion among many voters about who represents them in Congress. But the consequence is that while voters might know who their congressman is, they have no idea who represents their neighbors. That makes it more difficult for constituents to speak with a unified voice on issues that are important to them.

As for the fact that gerrymandering is the norm, there are signs that voters across the nation are getting fed up with it. Most notably, California instituted a new, nonpartisan redistricting commission in advance of this year's elections that has made them more competitive than at any time in a generation. Voting against Question 5 is the only clear way Maryland voters can signal to our elected leaders that we want that kind of change here.

The most coherent argument against the new districts is a picture of the maps themselves. They twist, they turn, they snake along narrow corridors and, in some instances, hop across the water. The 3rd District, represented by Democrat John Sarbanes, is the most egregious, combining portions of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties in a way that a federal judge described as "reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl" — an insult to pterodactyls, if anything. Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's 2nd District, which manages to include Randallstown, Aberdeen and Ft. Meade, isn't much better.

If the maps are rejected at the polls, Maryland's members of the House of Representatives will serve for two years in the new districts anyway. During that time, the governor and General Assembly would have to produce new maps. Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would only make token changes, but he would pursue that path at his and his party's peril. Marylanders petitioned one congressional map to referendum, and they can do it again, as many times as it takes to send the message that voters should pick their elected leaders, not the other way around.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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