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Editorial: Supreme Court gives incentive to get politics out of redistricting

The drawing of congressional and legislative boundaries in Maryland is an example of government at its worst and pure partisan politics at its most absurd level.

Any process where elected leaders are given the power to redraw the boundaries to give them a favorable chance for re-election by manipulating political power bases to keep their party — and themselves — in power is an affront to the basic tenets of democracy. Every 10 years following the release of the latest census data, new districts are drawn to reflect changes in population shifts. In Maryland, where Democrats have a significant plurality in the legislature and where they nearly always have control of the governor's office, redrawing the boundaries has always been an exercise in expanding the party's power base.

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But truth be told, it's not just Maryland where this is an issue. Any state where Democrats or Republicans hold an overwhelming majority is susceptible to the kind of backroom politics that prioritizes party over the desire of citizens to keep communities together and forming districts that are a gerrymandered mess.

On Monday, opponents of these partisan districts received a glimmer of hope when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold an Arizona law that allowed an independent commission to redraw congressional district boundaries as opposed to leaving it to the state legislature. The Arizona situation doesn't have an apples-to-apples application to Maryland in that the bill the Supreme Court was ruling on was a ballot initiative put forth by citizens, something Maryland does not permit. But the crux of the written majority argument by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg is that it's good to have elected officials left out of the process. She didn't mention anything about the fox guarding the hen house, but that's the idea.

Gov. Larry Hogan said during his first State of the State address in February that redistricting reform should be a priority for the state. "We have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. This is not a distinction that we should be proud of," the Republican governor told the Baltimore Sun in February. "Gerrymandering is a form of political gamesmanship that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices."

Hogan is right. And he said he would create a commission comprised of citizens that would make recommendations. The Supreme Court ruling could give him momentum to make this happen.

Democrats should also take note that if Hogan were to be re-elected in 2018, he would be the sitting governor the next time the congressional and legislative boundaries are drawn. It might behoove them to work with him on a less political process rather than the one we have now. Otherwise, there might be a few Democrats crying foul should they find themselves in a less than advantageous district.

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