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Advocates for political redistricting in Harford and Carroll recommend equal representation, keeping communities together

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission heard the public’s view on redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts Wednesday night, with many Harford and Carroll officials advocating for keeping local communities together and equalizing representation among legislative districts.

The commission will continue meetings to solicit public opinion on the state’s political districts, which are widely held to be some of the most gerrymandered in the country. Wednesday’s meeting for Harford, Carroll and Cecil counties drew state delegates, organizations and citizens who applauded the goal of the commission and, in some cases, proposed eliminating perceived imbalances in Maryland’s multi-member legislative districts.

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Elected officials from Carroll County said their district was desperately in need of redrawing. Because some of Carroll’s legislative districts spill over into Howard and Frederick counties, some elected officials are forced to split their attention between communities, Del. Susan Krebs said. Only four of Carroll’s 11 state representatives live in the county.

“Needless county splits in districts make it very hard to achieve strong ties between a county and its delegation and effective representation of county business in Annapolis,” Krebs, a Republican, said. “Those who have to represent two counties have double the task.”

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Sen. Justin Ready, representing Carroll County, said the redrawn congressional districts should avoid breaking up communities as much as possible. Carroll County belongs to the first congressional district, represented by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, and the eighth district, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin.

“Over half of Carroll County is connected to a district where 70% of the population is in the inner D.C. suburbs,” Ready, a Republican, said of the eighth district. “We should be restored to a congressional district that unites Carroll County and ideally unites us with our fellow Western Maryland counties as was the case historically for many decades.”

Neither of Carroll County’s congressional representatives live in the county.

Andrea Chamblee of Howard County echoed the Carroll legislator’s points. Because the Howard and Carroll County communities have different priorities and politics, she said the legislative districts should be redrawn in a way that keeps communities together.

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“That’s impossible to represent the interests of those very different people,” Chamblee said. “With this configuration, that just can’t happen.”

Jim Thornton, chairman of the Harford County Caucus of African American Leaders, said attention needs to be paid to equity during the redistricting process, noting that Harford County has never elected a person of color to the General Assembly. He recommended merging state legislative districts 34A and 34B to increase the likelihood that a person of color is elected.

Thornton also suggested eliminating multi-county representation so elected officials would not prioritize one or the other. Several of Harford County’s representatives also represent areas of Cecil and Baltimore counties.

“This alignment inherently creates losers and winners,” Thornton said.

In a Wednesday letter, Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties, wrote to the commission, suggesting they equalize and standardize the number of representatives per district. In Maryland, legislative districts can have between one to three representatives in the General Assembly, and Szeliga said the last redistricting gave Democrats a political advantage.

“It’s time to end these practices,” she wrote. “Politicians should not be choosing their voters.”

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, a Democrat representing Harford County, advocated for three-member legislative districts across the state at the meeting. She said all legislative districts had three members until the past two redistricting cycle. Now, just 31 of 47 legislative districts still have three members in a unified district, she said.

The rest, like Lisanti’s District 34, are broken into two or sometimes three sub-districts.

“It is not fair for some of our citizens to have three members in the Maryland General Assembly and others to have one,” she said. “If you live in one of those districts with only one representative, do you actually have the same level of support you would if you didn’t?”

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of three the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission will have for Harford, Carroll and Cecil counties. The second will occur when the census data is distributed to states, and the third will come after the commission has drafted legislative and congressional maps.

Additional virtual listening sessions specifically focused on other parts of the state have been scheduled through the end of July, although anyone can attend.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, created the commission to redraw Maryland’s notoriously gerrymandered political districts in January. Redistricting was scheduled to occur upon completion of the 2020 U.S. Census.

The governor has the power to propose General Assembly and congressional district maps, but state lawmakers can substitute their own General Assembly map. If those lawmakers want to propose a congressional map, they would have to pass their own bill and potentially marshal three-fifths support to override a veto.

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