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Activists rally against gerrymandering in Annapolis

Activists for redistricting reform held a mock celebration of the birthday of early American Vice President Elbridge Gerry in Annapolis Thursday to call for an end to the legislative redistricting ploy that bears his name -- gerrymandering.

About two dozen people representing such groups as Common Cause Maryland and the League of Women Voters presented a satirical recipe for a "Gerrymander Cake" including such instructions as "do not expose to sunlight while baking."

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"Our experience in Maryland is that it serves 8 million voters poorly," said "chef" Ralph Watkins, a board member of the League of Women Voters. (He overstated the number of Maryland voters by about 4 million.)

The activists gathered in from of a State House where legislators will not convene again to January. In past years, the overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses have shown little inclination to change a system that has favored their party in the past. In the last redistricting, Maryland's legislative leaders and Gov. Martin O'Malley produced a heavily gerrymandered map that gave Democrats a 7-1 advantage in U.S. House seats.

The term gerrymander comes from Gerry's time as governor of Massachusetts, when his Republican Party drew a convoluted 1812 map that favored its interests over the rival Federalists. One of the districts was said to resemble a salamander, which a cartoonist called a "Gerry-mander."

"Gerrymandering has been around a long time. Both parties do it and we all know it's wrong,' said Carol Anne Hecht, president of the Annapolis chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Democrats in Maryland have explained their reluctance to reform the system here by pointing to such states as North Carolina and Pennsylvania where Republicans have ensured lopsided House delegations of their party. Since Republicans control more states than Democrats, nationally the practice has solidified GOP control of the House. That has led to such ironies as O'Malley, now a Democratic presidential candidate, calling for an end to gerrymandering in an appearance on MSNBC this week.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican, lent his support to the activists by speaking at the rally.

Pointing to the 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from Baltimore into Montgomery County, Rutherford described Maryland's current map as "a terrible situation."

"It's basically undemocratic. This is really a good government issue," he said. Rutherford described Democratic arguments that their actions are justified by those of Republicans in other state as "hogwash."

Noel Isama, transparency director for Common Cause, argued that Maryland should take the lead in adopting reforms regardless of partisan consequences. He said his organization is making the same argument in GOP-controlled states.

"Fundamentally, at the end of the day, there has to be a national solution," he said.

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