Editorial: Lawsuit may present Maryland's best shot at nonpartisan redistricting

State Democrats this week were forced to admit what most people already knew: Congressional redistricting maps were drawn up using partisan politics with the intent to oust a longtime Republican representative and replace him with a Democrat.

The maps are being challenged in federal court, where the plaintiffs — seven individuals from Maryland's 6th Congressional District — are arguing the gerrymandered map violates voters' First Amendment rights, and asking the court to overturn it or keep it from being used in the 2018 election.

While it's unclear how the court will rule on the argument, there was some damning testimony from former Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley who has recently done an about-face on partisan redistricting since the current maps were drawn on his watch.

During his deposition, O'Malley said it was "my intent to create … a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican." Earlier this year, O'Malley gave a speech at Boston University urging for an end to gerrymandered districts on a state-by-state basis.

An analyst for the organization hired by Democrats to draw the maps also testified that the "purpose of what we were doing was, No. 1, incumbent protection. And No. 2, trying to see if there was a way that there was another Democrat district in the state," according to reporting by The Baltimore Sun.

Redrawing of the maps in 2011 had a profound affect on Carroll County, once entirely part of Maryland's 6th Congressional District represented by Republican Roscoe Bartlett, and now split into the first district in the north and the eighth district in the south.

While Andy Harris, a staunch conservative, represents a portion of Carroll and its primary political views, his District 1 wraps from Taneytown, Manchester and Hampstead, across northern Baltimore and Harford counties, then the entire Eastern Shore down to Ocean City and Crisfield.

Meanwhile, District 8 — previously represented by Chris Van Hollen and now Jamie Raskin, both Democrats — lumps Westminster, Mount Airy, New Windsor, Union Bridge, Sykesville and portions of Frederick County such as Thurmont, Emmittsburg, Woodsboro and Middletown with densely populated and left-leaning Montgomery County towns like Rockville and Takoma Park. Despite geographically representing larger portions of Carroll and Frederick, the Montgomery portion has twice the population of the rest of the district combined, making it next to impossible for a Republican to win in District 8.

Bartlett, meanwhile, was ousted from the sixth district, which is made up mostly of Western Maryland but now also includes a portion of heavily Democratic Montgomery, turning the tide so John Dulaney could win the seat there in 2012.

Leading Democrats in the state have refused to consider moving to an independent, nonpartisan redistricting committee, as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has championed, without other states where Republicans have similarly gerrymandered districts making similar efforts. While we agree in theory that partisan gerrymandering should be addressed at a federal level, we have no confidence Congress would consider such a bill at present, leaving it up to the states. (And, in Maryland, redrawing the legislative districts while they are at it.)

State politicians seem to have reached an impasse regarding redistricting, but the Democrats' tune may change if the court sides with the plaintiffs and rules the maps unconstitutional. In fact, this case might be the best chance to see progress toward nonpartisan redistricting in Maryland.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°