Maryland’s state senators and delegates are moving forward with a new map for their own districts for the next election, picking a map favored by Democratic leaders and rejecting a proposal backed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
A key Senate committee on Tuesday endorsed the map along party lines — 11 Democrats in favor and four Republicans opposed — sending it to the full Senate for approval, which is likely by the end of the week.
“It’s a good, solid plan,” said Karl Aro, a retired top adviser to state lawmakers who led a commission that drew the new map.
The map takes into account demographic shifts in the state’s population as recorded in the last census. While the state grew overall, to nearly 6.2 million residents, some areas saw larger gains while others lost residents, requiring adjustments to the districts for the 47 state senators and 141 delegates. Each district has one senator and three delegates, with some delegates elected at-large and others elected in single-member or two-member subdistricts.
Baltimore City, for example, would lose a Senate district under the proposal and another city district was adjusted so that it would now cross from North Baltimore over the city line into Towson.
Other changes to the district boundaries were intended to better group “communities of interest” together, said Aro, who previously was head of the state Department of Legislative Services.
In Baltimore County, a new single-delegate subdistrict in Owings Mills — District 11 — was drawn with the goal of electing a person of color to the legislature. Also in western Baltimore County, District 44, which currently includes part of the city, was tweaked so it would pull in more county neighborhoods to maintain its size and its status as a majority nonwhite district.
Aro said the work was challenging, given Maryland’s unique geographic shape and state constitutional requirements that districts be compact and contiguous.
The map going forward has been criticized by Republicans as well as Fair Maps Maryland, a group aligned with Hogan.
The Republican governor submitted written testimony urging lawmakers to support the map drawn by the commission he appointed, and not the one drawn by their panel.
The governor opted not to appear before lawmakers during a two-hour public hearing on the maps over video Tuesday, continuing his practice of not testifying in the legislature.
Hogan did not comment on the content of the legislature’s plan, writing that the map-drawing commission “failed to operate in a transparent manner and created their own secretly-drawn legislative maps.”
Hogan warned in his testimony that if the legislature’s map is adopted, it faces likely legal challenges. Already, a map with new boundaries for congressional districts that was adopted by the General Assembly last month is the subject of two lawsuits.
“What do you expect when a bunch of politicians go behind closed doors and pick their own voters and draw their own districts?” said Doug Mayer, a Hogan adviser and spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland. “This map is just as bad as the congressional map, if not worse, and if they pass this into law, we’ll see them in court.”
No vote was taken on the map from the governor’s commission, effectively defeating it as the other map moved forward.
Aro said some allegations that the map is gerrymandered — meaning its designed to benefit one political party at the expense of another — are unfounded.
Often when people dislike some of the boundary lines, he said, “the first word that comes out of their mouth is ‘gerrymandering.’ I don’t think this plan is gerrymandered.”
Local elections officials, while not backing either map, raised concerns that they face an intense amount of work in a short period of time to adjust polling locations, line up staff and equipment, and notify voters of their new districts and where they should vote.
The work is detailed and labor-intensive, said Ruie Lavoie, director of elections in Baltimore County.
Maryland Policy & Politics
“It isn’t just like we can push a button. We have to manually look at each address and, for my county, that is more than 600,000 addresses,” she said.
David Garreis, deputy elections director in Anne Arundel County, told lawmakers that decisions need to be made quickly with deadlines approaching, including the Feb. 22 deadline for candidates to file to run. The longer the process plays out, including legal challenges, the more deadlines and tasks are affected.
“After this,” he said, “there is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Sen. Chris West raised concerns that all the boundary changes would cause elections officials to have to create additional voting precincts in his Baltimore County district. The Republican senator cautioned that if there are problems, people may blame the lawmakers.
“This is going to cause serious logistical problems, no matter which bill is passed,” he said. “I’m fearful the primary election this year is going to be fraught with problems.”
With the Senate expected to consider the map this week, it could move to the House of Delegates for consideration next week.
Under the Maryland Constitution, the General Assembly has until the 45th day of the 90-day session that began last week to adopt a map, otherwise the governor’s proposal would go into effect. The governor cannot veto a map once it’s approved.