Editorial: Maryland Democrats should support redistricting reform

In order to see bipartisan redistricting reform in Maryland, it's going to take a bipartisan effort by those in Annapolis. Sadly, we're not sure that the willingness is there from the Democratic majority, which isn't in any hurry to lose its stranglehold on state politics. However, if the election of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was a sign that the tide is turning in Maryland, perhaps they should consider it.

Hogan, who has been outspoken about redistricting reform since before he took office, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would replace the current, governor-led redistricting process with a nonpartisan Apportionment Commission that would be required to base the districts on "population, compactness and natural boundaries … as opposed to politics and partisanship," according to a news release from the Governor's Office. The bill is expected to be formally introduced to the General Assembly today, along with a few others the governor identified as priorities.


Carroll County has certainly felt the effects of the last go-around of both congressional and legislative redistricting. Long a part of the 6th Congressional District with politically similar Western Maryland counties, Carroll was severed into two districts — one represented by the lone Maryland Republican in Congress, Andy Harris, the other by left-leaning Chris Van Hollen. Nevermind that the redrawn 6th District produced another Democrat in Congress. Legislative districts were redrawn here as well, giving Howard and Frederick counties more say in Districts 4 and 9, both of which include slivers of Carroll County.

And that's not even the worst of it. Maryland's 3rd Congressional District is considered one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, once referred to as being the shape of a broken-winged pterodactyl.

Maryland is desperately in need of redistricting reform. And its residents agree, according to a Goucher College poll conducted last February. In that poll, 72 percent of Marylanders said they would prefer if redistricting is done by an independent commission, rather than leaving it in the hands of elected officials.

Yet the state's Democratic leadership refuses to see it that way. In August, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller told The Baltimore Sun that the three-fifths majority needed in both chambers in order to pass that bill and put a constitutional amendment on November's ballot "is not going to happen."

However, we should note that neither the practice of gerrymandering nor calling for redistricting reform is exclusive to one political party. Republicans in Texas are just as bad as Democrats in Maryland. And President Barack Obama — whose politics no one is confusing with those of Gov. Hogan — called for bipartisan redistricting reform in his State of the Union address earlier this month.

Maryland's Democratic leadership might be wise to consider the move to an independent commission. While it is still a ways off, should Hogan be re-elected in 2018, he would be in charge of redrawing the maps for the General Assembly and congressional districts after the 2020 U.S. Census. (Although legislators do have the ability to substitute their own map for the General Assembly, they would have to pass their own bill to change the governor's proposed congressional map and get a three-fifths vote to override a veto.)

It's clear that people are sick of politics as usual, and there are few things more frustrating than politically drawn voting districts. Elected officials shouldn't be choosing who gets to vote for them.