Census redistricting is a numbers game for Harford

Battle lines are being drawn, it seems, in the fight over where battle lines for state politics will be drawn in Maryland.

The U.S. Census Bureau has digested the information it gathered in 2010 and the task of deciding which precincts will be in which legislative districts has begun.

Over the weekend there was a hearing on the matter as it applies to the legislative districts for the Maryland General Assembly, but there's no doubt the wrangling will go on for weeks, largely unnoticed by those of us in the general public.

The reason is simple: the subject matter is as dull as it gets, except to the most plugged in of political operatives. People like this will be going precinct by precinct in an effort to string together enough precincts that vote dependably for one party to secure a safe district for that party. Or they'll be seeking to dilute any strength held by the opposition.

This is how the game is played, and it's been that way since the earliest days of the Republic.

As Republican State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who represents southern and eastern Harford District 34 said of the state's Democratic majority that will hold sway in the legislative district drawing process: "They won't be satisfied until they get rid of as many Republicans as they can, and that's what they do every time."

It's worth noting, by the way, that Republicans do the exact same thing in the states where they hold substantial majorities. While Jacobs' lament is that of the Republican Party in Maryland, it would be easy to find Democrats in South Carolina who would be of a like mind on the subject.

Of course this sometimes backfires. Maryland is a legislative oddity insofar as each legislative district is represented by a senator and three delegates. In many districts, the delegates are elected in such a way that the top three vote-getters end up in office, such as is the case in District 7 which includes parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. But in many others there are so-called sub-districts. Northern Harford District 35 is wholly within the county, but has a single-member sub-district in Bel Air and a two-member district for the balance of the electorate. And Jacobs' District 34 has a single-member sub-district that's wholly in Cecil County, while a two-member sub-district is almost entirely inHarford County.

Whether a district is a pick-three entity or in the sub-district  category is essentially a matter of politics. The Bel Air sub-district is widely regarded as having been a failed effort on the part of Democrats drawing district lines to eek a Democratic district out of a largely Republican territory. Meanwhile there's something of a Democratic balancing act going on in District 34 to preserve a single Democratic seat in the Harford sub-district, possibly to even secure both seats for the Democrats.

These sub-district divisions are fairly mindless and serve only as tools to exploit political advantage. As such, they should either be done away with in favor of the pick three system, or each senate district should be divided into three delegate districts, each sending one delegate toAnnapolis.

Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, but going with one or the other will take away the ability of one party to get an edge over the other by establishing sub-districts more or less by whim.

This, however, is exactly why we can expect to continue to see sub-districts in Maryland's legislative process for decades to come, regardless of which party holds sway.

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