Editorial: On redistricting, keep it simple

While there is still an ongoing legal battle regarding whether Maryland will have to redraw its 6th Congressional District before the 2020 elections, it will most certainly have to update its districts using 2020 U.S. Census data was its available. Whenever those new maps are drawn, we think it’s best to keep it simple.

That’s what House Bill 463, sponsored by Anne Arundel County Republican Michael Malone seeks to do.


The bill, titled Anti-Gerrymandering of Maryland's Congressional Districts, would require congressional districts to be compact and respect geographic boundaries and local city and county boundaries. That’s the same legal standard required for the state’s legislative districts for delegates and state senators.

Requiring congressional districts to be compact and taking into account geographic and county boundaries will go a long way to creating districts that make more sense, and are less likely to be drawn to favor one political party over another, Malone told the Baltimore Sun.

Malone’s bill is co-sponsored by all eight members of Carroll County’s all Republican House delegation in Districts 4, 5 and 9A, but has also received bipartisan support. Twenty-two Democrats have also signed on as co-sponsors and the bill has co-sponsors from every jurisdiction in the state.

The bill has struggled to gain traction with House or Senate leadership, despite bipartisan support.

A hearing on the House bill is slated for March 4; a companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed Reilly, another Anne Arundel Republican, is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 28.

Maryland’s congressional districts are considered to be some of the most gerrymandered in the country. A judge once infamously referred to the shape District 3 resembling “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

Carroll County voters know all to well how gerrymandering has effected them. As recently as 2013, Carroll was part of District 6, which stretched across Western Maryland and included rural, traditionally conservative portions of Baltimore and Harford counties. Now, the county is cut in two districts, with the northern portion lumped in with the entire Eastern Shore, and the southern portion connected to the Washington, D.C., suburbs. It makes no sense politically or geographically.

We have been supportive of Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to have an independent panel draw the districts going forward, a proposal that has also fallen on deaf ears. Currently, he has appointed a independent bi-partisan commission to redraw districts as directed by a three-judge federal court panel in November.

In doing so, the judges gave the state instructions to use "traditional criteria for redistricting, " and showing regard for "natural boundaries.” This is, essentially, what Malone’s bill seeks to do moving forward. These criteria, in conjunction with a non- or bi-partisan commissioner to draw the districts, should provide voters will a map that decreased the influence of politics and returns power back to the people to choose who represents them in Congress, not the other way around, as gerrymandering has done.

It should be noted, that while we think independent redistricting commissions are the way to go, some scholars believe they too may be unconstitutional, citing the Elections Clause, which gives state legislatures the primary power to draw congressional districts. Those scholars believe it is only a matter of time before a case challenging the constitutionality of these independent panels comes before the Supreme Court.

Should an independent redistricting commission never come to fruition in Maryland, requiring the districts to be drawn by taking into natural geographic and county boundaries should at least limit the amount of politics injected into the maps, not to mention, those maps will make a lot more sense. Malone’s and Reilly’s proposals need more support from our state lawmakers.