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Editorial: High court's decision on gerrymandering means its up to voters to demand change

The country’s high court dealt a blow to Marylanders and the rest of the country last week when it decided, with a 5-4 conservative majority, that federal courts aren’t the place to resolve complaints of the practice known as gerrymandering — a deeply political practice in drawing legislative districts that clearly favors one party over the other.

Nationwide, many states’ congressional maps have been drawn up to favor Republicans. In Maryland, the opposite has occurred, where politicians in the deep blue state have gerrymandered districts to favor Democrats.

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Maryland’s current congressional map is considered one of the most gerrymandered in the country — a federal judge once referred to the 3rd Congressional District as a “broken-winged pterodactyl” because of its strange shape.

No less of an authority than Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who was governor when the current maps were created, has admitted they were purposely drawn to remove a longtime incumbent Republican from office and replace him with a Democrat. (A strategy that was successful.)

Regardless of political affiliation, if you believe in fair elections and that politicians should be chosen by the voters and not the other way around, you should be disappointed in this decision by the Supreme Court not to act.

The good news is that the high-profile case has drawn voters’ attention to the practice of gerrymandering, and they should demand action by their representatives in Annapolis when they reconvene in January.

For the past several sessions, Gov. Larry Hogan has introduced legislation to put the redrawing of districts into “the hands of a balanced, fair and nonpartisan commission.” Repeatedly, Democrats have not allowed such legislation to come to a vote.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, Hogan again vowed to introduce similar legislation.

“Gerrymandering is wrong, and both parties are guilty. It stifles real political debate, contributes to our bitter partisan polarization, and deprives citizens of meaningful choices,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement. “This is a problem we can, should, and must solve. It is, and will continue to be, one of my highest priorities as governor.”

Maryland’s Democrats have instead called on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to address the matter on a national level. While we would love to see Congress call for nationwide redistricting reform, we’re not holding our breath.

And while we understand their rationale, it seems incredibly hypocritical for state Democrats to call for Congressional Republicans to lead national reform without having its own house in order.

State Democrats have the opportunity to show they have the political willpower — nay, courage — by supporting independent redistricting, even to the detriment of their own party (which, realistically, may only result in losing one seat). At that point, their calls for a national redistricting effort might carry weight.

Again, forgive us for not being optimistic about that occurring.

New congressional maps will be drawn after the 2020 Census. It is paramount that voters across Maryland hold their state legislators’ feet to the fire and demand that they support an independent commission to draw the new maps. If they do not, voters should not return them to office.

Now that the courts have bowed out, it is imperative that voters take the matter into their own hands, lest they continue to allow partisan politicians cherry pick their constituents.

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