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Politics

‘I say the serenity prayer’: Maryland redistricting court cases keep candidates, election officials in limbo

On a February weekend, state Sen. Mary Washington left her Northeast Baltimore rowhouse, got into her car and headed north on York Road toward the city-county line.

She was seeing that section of Baltimore County from a fresh perspective. On Jan. 27, Maryland state lawmakers approved a new map of state House and Senate districts that extended Washington’s district into the county for the first time. She considered her drive an advanced orientation to her new constituents. “I want to get to know those people and have them get to know me,” she said.

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But weeks later, Washington — like many other candidates for state, federal and congressional offices — is hardly feeling oriented.

A series of legal challenges to Democratic-created maps has postponed the state’s primary from June 28 to July 19 and created uncertainty about what congressional and state legislative districts, including Washington’s, will ultimately look like.

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The unresolved situation has led candidates to wonder which voters to court, and elections officials to fret about preparing ballots on time. They want to be sure voters aren’t confused and need to secure polling places aligned with the correct maps.

“I say the serenity prayer a lot,” said Washington, 59, referring to the call on God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Washington, a Democrat, a progressive and a former state delegate who lives in the diverse Ednor Gardens-Lakeside neighborhood, said it would do no good to fret. “As an elected official, I want to express confidence. To contribute to a sense of despair or lack of faith is against what I believe is our responsibility.”

State Sen. Mary Washington continues to do her legislative committee work Thursday as redistricting maps are challenged in court.

Beach or voting booth?

But others have loudly complained that shifting the primary date so deep into summer — and perhaps pushing voters into unfamiliar districts on short notice — could diminish turnout at the heart of vacation season.

“This latest mess … is a stark reminder that we need to reform the process by which our congressional and legislative district maps are chosen,” said Rushern Baker, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “Because whichever side of the aisle you happen to be on, it’s clear this isn’t working for the people and does little but inspire confusion, resentment and apathy within our political system.”

“We hope everyone will do everything they can,” said Joe O’Hern, campaign manager for John King, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, “to make sure voters are educated on the change so no one is disenfranchised.”

Maryland isn’t the only state dealing with redistricting challenges and delays. North Carolina’s legislative and congressional primaries were pushed back by a state court because of litigation that has since been resolved. The governor then vetoed an attempt to delay the primary further.

Meanwhile, candidate filing deadlines have been extended in multiple states, including Maryland, where a judge last week ordered a postponement of the date from March 22 to April 15. It had already been delayed from Feb. 22.

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The delays seem to particularly grate on Armstead B.C. Jones, Baltimore’s election director. He says people may not grasp all that is required — everything from hiring and training election judges to ensuring precincts are in the right districts.

”There’s a whole lot to it,” Jones said. “It’s not just, ‘Throw the map out there and have an election.’”

Some political strategists speculate that the filing dates and primary may get pushed back again, perhaps even to the fall.

“This is bad news for the dozen or so people running in the Democratic primary and great news for [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Kelly Schulz,” said Doug Mayer, a senior adviser to Schulz, the former Maryland commerce secretary. “The longer the primary, the more campaign dollars they’ll burn all while attacking each other into oblivion. Couldn’t ask for a better situation. As the song goes, ‘See You in September.’”

Maryland’s primary will include nominating races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat, all eight congressional seats, state delegates and senators, and a number of county and local positions.

‘I just want the certainty of a definite date’

Two statewide court cases — and some county cases — have put the redistricting maps in limbo.

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In December, three Republican state delegates and others challenged the legality of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly’s map of the districts of 141 state delegates and 47 senators. The plaintiffs told the Maryland Court of Appeals the maps don’t abide by Maryland constitutional guidelines. It was that court that on Tuesday postponed the primary and pushed the filing deadline back.

Alan M. Wilner, a retired Court of Appeals judge appointed to the case, has scheduled a hearing beginning Wednesday that is expected to last a few days.

In a second case in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Republican elected officials and voters are asking retired state appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia to toss out the boundaries of the state’s eight congressional districts. The plaintiffs say the map is the product of gerrymandering, a partisan strategy that commonly involves stacking large numbers of the rival party’s voters into a limited number of districts, leaving that party with too few voters to compete everywhere else. “I expect to have an opinion out within the next week,” Battaglia said Friday as the trial ended.

There can be no final boundary lines until the cases are resolved. While the courts have expedited their schedules, there is not a firm timeline for approving the maps and then, if necessary, adopting new ones. Courts around the country have historically employed a variety of remedies in redistricting cases, including redrawing maps themselves or ordering the state legislature to craft new boundaries. The latter approach could be particularly time-consuming.

“In the end, what every campaign I’m working with says is, ‘I just want the certainty of a definite date, no matter how late it is or how early it is,’” said Sophia Silbergeld, a Baltimore fundraising consultant working with a number of candidates, including Sen. Washington and Democratic gubernatorial contender Wes Moore.

“On campaigns, you budget backwards,” Silbergeld said. “You say, ‘Here is Election Day.’ The last things you pay for are major voter communications such as TV, mail and heavy digital. And when you don’t know the date you’re budgeting backwards from, you can’t really budget.”

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The uncertainty can have legislative implications, too. It can be difficult for lawmakers to establish priorities if they don’t know exactly who their constituents will be.

On Jan. 31, Baltimore Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg introduced legislation in the House of Delegates to try to help revive the Red Line, a proposed east-west light rail line that proponents said would spur economic development among some of Baltimore’s most neglected neighborhoods. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan canceled the project in 2015, calling it a boondoggle.

Under an alternative state legislative map endorsed by Hogan — and rejected by General Assembly Democrats — the proposed Red Line would no longer run through Rosenberg’s district. Still, the Democrat said in an interview that he has long supported the line and was not influenced by the possibility that the Hogan-supported district boundaries could be applied by the court.

In addition to Rosenberg, Democratic delegates Dalya Attar and Tony Bridges and former Democratic Del. Bilal Ali have filed to run in District 41; the district is represented in the House by three delegates.

Hogan’s map was created by a commission he appointed that included Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

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Under the Hogan-backed lines, Washington’s District 43 — which includes the site of the former Memorial Stadium — would remain within the city, rather than picking up tens of thousands of new constituents across the Baltimore County line. So far, she is the only candidate to file to run for the district’s Senate seat.

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Open seat becomes musical chairs

But District 43’s uncertain shape complicates the campaign not only of Washington, but of others seeking to run there to represent it in the House of Delegates. Maggie McIntosh, a veteran delegate who was the first woman to serve as Democratic majority leader, announced last year that she is retiring at the end of her current four-year term in early 2023.

Democrat Logan Endow, 30, who came within 200 votes two years ago of winning a Baltimore City Council seat, is among those seeking the open House seat in District 43, along with Democrats Reginald Benbow, Elizabeth Embry and Rikki Vaughn and the Green Party’s Renaud Deaundre Brown. Also representing the district presently are Democratic delegates Curt Anderson and Regina Boyce; so far, Boyce has filed for reelection.

Endow entered the election cycle expecting delays caused by legal wrangling over the new maps.

”You just have to work harder. It’s not clear what the lines are going to be. There might entire neighborhoods that are drawn out,” Endow said Thursday. “You have to cast a wider net with more intense voter contact and more intense donor contacts.”

Once the maps are set, Endow said, “it’s going to be a real sprint in the end.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Christine Condon, Emily Opilo and Bryn Stole contributed to this article.

For the record

This story originally misidentified a client of political fundraising consultant Sophia Silbergeld. He is gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore. The Sun regrets the error.


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