Leaders of Maryland’s General Assembly released four draft maps for the state’s new congressional districts, a slate of options to redraw the voting lines for Maryland’s eight U.S. representatives that will be debated during a special legislative session next month.
The proposed maps would each carve out the eight districts to match population changes in the state since the 2010 census, the last time Maryland redrew its electoral lines. The redrawn maps could shift the political advantage in contests for the seats, seven of which are held by Democrats.
Karl S. Aro, tapped by the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to lead its Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said in a statement that hearings around the state made clear that “Marylanders think their representation can be improved with more compact and easily followed districts.”
Aro called the four draft congressional concept maps “a starting point” for gathering feedback before lawmakers hammer out a final set of maps in a special legislative session that will begin Dec. 6. The public can submit comments on the drafts via email to testimony_LRAC@mlis.state.md.us.
Proposal 1 features more compact districts through Central Maryland than the current map. The map would split Baltimore between the 2nd and 7th districts, while a proposed 8th District would run from the Pennsylvania border in Carroll County south through Montgomery County to the District of Columbia.
Proposal 2 also splits Baltimore between the 2nd and 7th districts and features the sprawling, irregular districts of the current maps. The Eastern Shore-based 1st District would stretch across the Chesapeake Bay to include portions of Anne Arundel County.
Proposal 3 has a district that connects Baltimore to Cecil County, and also stretches the 1st District across the bay to include parts of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
Proposal 4 would divide Baltimore among three congressional districts, the 2nd, 3rd and 7th, as well as splitting Montgomery County among the 3rd, 6th and 8th districts.
Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County, both Democrats, welcomed the drafts in a joint statement Tuesday evening, saying their release provides “the public with several weeks for input and reaction” before lawmakers take up the issue.
The pair encouraged residents to offer testimony and feedback on the proposals and called the release a continuation of “our open and transparent process” for redrawing electoral boundaries.
The commission is scheduled to hold an online hearing on its four draft proposals Monday at 6 p.m. A separate hearing for Howard County residents, the latest is a series of local meetings to gather feedback, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Howard Community College in Columbia.
The current Maryland congressional map has been criticized as one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, though it has largely survived legal challenges. Several districts snake through the Baltimore region, including the current 3rd District, which a federal judge described as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
[ U.S. Supreme Court rules in Maryland case that courts have no role in deciding partisan gerrymandering ]
The lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, represents the 1st District, which encompasses the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore’s northern suburbs.
Aro is the former longtime director of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services. The other members are six top-ranking lawmakers: four Democrats and two Republicans.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has needled the General Assembly in recent weeks for not showing draft maps to the public. He’s accused it of operating secretly, though the group has had several hearings in person and online to gather input.
State law gives Hogan veto power over any proposed congressional maps, but Democrats in the General Assembly — where they hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers — will almost certainly will have the final say over the maps. That’s led some observers to speculate that lawmakers could attempt to draw congressional maps that would give Democrats a strong chance of knocking off Harris and sweeping all eight seats.
David Wasserman, an analyst for the Cook Political Report who closely follows redistricting, said two of the four drafts would likely allow Harris (or another Republican) to win the 1st District relatively easily. Wasserman called the other two “weak gerrymanders” that would give Democrats the upper hand but still give Harris a shot at winning.
Wasserman said in a tweet that the “most aggressive” of the maps, Proposal 3, would shift the district’s voters from an electorate that backed former Republican President Donald Trump by about 20 percentage points in 2020 to one that went for Democratic President Joe Biden by 10 points.
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Hogan has threatened a legal battle against any maps passed by the General Assembly over his veto that he considers “unfair.” The governor backed a previous challenge to Maryland’s current congressional districts that was ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that federal courts have no role in sorting out partisan gerrymandering.
Hogan is backing a set of maps drawn by a Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission that he appointed that balanced membership among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
Doug Mayer, a longtime Hogan adviser and the spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, a redistricting advocacy group, ripped the draft maps on Tuesday night and said that the Hogan-supported commission’s results align much more closely with what Maryland voters want.
“There’s absolutely nothing surprising about these maps. They benefit the politicians and the political party that drew them,” Mayer told The Baltimore Sun. “This is why Americans can’t stand gerrymandering and think it’s undemocratic.”
The Hogan-supported congressional map has districts that sprawl and cross county lines less than the current one. It also appears to give Republicans a chance of electing at least two members of Congress, one from a district based on the Eastern Shore and another from a district based in Western Maryland.
The Hogan-supported map also creates a district centered on Baltimore City that also includes some southern suburbs in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Another district based in Baltimore County rings the city.
The General Assembly will address only the congressional maps in its special session. It will consider state legislative maps in its next regular session, which starts Jan. 12.