Several recent editorials and commentaries criticize the new congressional districts. The opposition primarily focuses on the odd shapes of districts, without considering any of the other variables that come into play when drawing district lines. Simply making bald assertions about gerrymandering without any other facts and looking at the shapes of districts in isolation is extremely misleading. Common Cause asked the question in a recent article "are odd shaped districts good or bad?" The answer is they are neither good nor bad because a legal map cannot be created if you are solely looking at the shape of the districts.
First, the articles fail to point out that the new congressional map withstood several legal challenges. A three-judge panel of the United States District Court found the map legal and constitutional, (1) rejecting a claim against our landmark decision to count prison population where they are originally from, as opposed to in their prisons; (2) rejecting claims that the map violated the Voting Rights Act; (3) rejecting a racial discrimination claim against the map; and (4) rejecting a claim that the map was gerrymandered. The decision was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.
Most of the complaints seem to be about Congressional District 3 that straddles the two metro regions of Baltimore and Washington and includes parts of Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties. In fact, one commentator said District 3 looked like blood spatter. But, as U.S. Appellate Judge Paul V. Niemeyer stated in his opinion upholding the legality of the map, "[T]he basic shape of some districts has not changed substantially since the last redistricting." This is particularly true of District 3, which was actually re-drawn by the Court of Appeals themselves in 2002.
Additionally, the opponents argue that no "common interests" are shared between the communities in District 3. The truth is that just because two communities do not share a zip code does not mean that they do not share common interests. Whether they are two miles apart or two hundred miles apart, communities can have similar interests. Congressional District 3 is comprised of the communities along Interstate 95 that make up what is considered Central Maryland or the "Baltimore-Washington Corridor," which share many common interests including regional business relationships, issues around sprawl and maintaining infrastructure.
Let's talk about the specifics of the Congressional Plan that is on the ballot. Based on the 2010 census, there are 5,772,233 residents in Maryland. Therefore, each of our 8 Congressional Districts has 721,529 residents. Reaching the ideal population for each congressional district is not a simple task. Maryland's largest congressional district — the 5th (Southern Maryland) — had nearly 47,000 too many residents. The smallest — the 7th (Baltimore City) — had 57,000 too few. The governor introduced and the legislature passed a map that conformed to state and federal law.
Adding to the difficulty of drawing "pretty districts" are the borders of Maryland's counties, municipalities, precincts and census blocks, which are not drawn in straight lines. These are the principal factor in drawing any congressional or legislative map. Maryland's geography also is dominated by the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the most irregular shaped states in the country. While there is no constitutional mandate to keep Marylanders in their current district, there is no constitutional mandate for pretty districts either. Keeping districts together as much as possible creates continuity that makes for more responsive and accountable representation.
The 2012 Congressional map actually keeps more Marylanders in their existing districts than the 2002 plan. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who served as the chairman of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee in 2002, recently stated when he spoke in support of the 2012 Congressional plan that in 2002, only 67 percent of Marylanders remained in their existing district. The 2012 map builds on the existing districts created in 2002 and keeps over 70 percent of Marylanders in their current districts.
The governor based the map on the report of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC) that incorporated 350 comments received from the public during 12 regional hearings across the state between July and October 2011. The map includes many of the public comments and recommendations. It preserves our two majority minority districts, the 4th and 7th Congressional districts. The 5th Congressional District maintains its significant minority population and accurately reflects the growing diversity of Southern Maryland. District 1 keeps the nine Eastern Shore counties together and no longer crosses the Chesapeake Bay into more urban areas of Anne Arundel County. Instead, it runs into rural portions of Carroll County. Harford County is no longer split into 3 Congressional Districts, a desire expressed by residents.
The other loud complaint is that this map is purely political. Was there a political component? Of course there was. However, although the new Congressional map was drawn from a Democratic Party perspective, it was also drawn fairly. Districts 6 and 8 can both be considered competitive. In an ideal world, every state would have a completely separate, independent body drawing maps. Alas, this is not the case. Until such time that change occurs at the federal level, redistricting will continue to be a partisan, political process. Republican controlled states such as Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah and many others use redistricting to their advantage to combine Democrats into seats together and to create new opportunities for Republicans.
As an elected leader who was part of the process, I can attest to the fact that redistricting was fair and transparent. Although the map may not be perfect, it would be impossible to create one with which no Marylander took issue. This is a strong map that ensures equal representation for everyone. Even the United States District Court held that this map was legal, and the Supreme Court affirmed the decision. I urge you to vote for Question 5 because the map is fair, legal and protects the rights of all Marylanders.
Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun