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Maryland state lawmakers give final OK to new district maps; lawsuit likely

Maryland’s state lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a new map of their own districts, over the objections of Republicans who are vowing to contest the map in court.

The new boundary lines for all 141 delegates and 47 state senators will go into effect for this year’s elections, when all seats in the General Assembly are up for election. The redrawn lines were required following the 2020 census to take into account shifting populations and demographics in the state.

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The final vote of 95-42 in the House of Delegates came along party lines, with the majority Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed. It followed a similarly lopsided, party-line vote in the state Senate last week.

Democrats said the map is fair and follows requirements in the state constitution and federal voting rights laws. They frequently used the term “legally sufficient.”

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Republicans claimed that the map is gerrymandered to give Democrats an advantage. On Thursday, they took particular umbrage with the fact that while each district has one senator and three state delegates, some delegates are elected at-large across the district, while other delegates — as has been the case for decades — are elected in one-member or two-member subdistricts.

They vowed to take legal action to block the map.

“We will see you in court, and I believe it will be overturned,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican representing parts of Harford and Baltimore counties.

Lawyers already are working on a lawsuit on behalf of Fair Maps Maryland, an advocacy group aligned with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“You have to give the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly a lot of credit, they have been fully committed to voter suppression every step of the way,” Fair Maps Maryland spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement.

Mayer said the redistricting process and the resulting maps are the culmination of Democratic leaders doing “everything in their power to uphold the status quo and continue rigging our voting system in their favor.”

Fair Maps Maryland filed a lawsuit already against a new map of Maryland congressional districts that the General Assembly approved last month.

Hogan vetoed the congressional map, but lawmakers swiftly overturned his veto. The governor has no veto option for the state legislative map because of how the process is laid out in the state constitution.

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Hogan has repeatedly criticized lawmakers for refusing to seriously consider a map put forward by a commission he appointed.

Following the vote, Hogan posted on social media saying the House of Delegates “trampled on the will of Marylanders by rejecting the fair, nonpartisan citizens map for the most gerrymandered map in America.”

“From the start, this process was rigged by politicians to protect their own power,” the governor continued. “It’s wrong and illegal, and it will not stand.”

The Hogan-endorsed map didn’t advance in the legislative process, but Republicans tried again Thursday on the House floor. Twice Republican delegates offered amendments that would have replaced the proposed map with variations of the Hogan-endorsed map — and twice those efforts failed on party-line votes.

Del. Eric Luedtke, the Democratic majority leader from Montgomery County, said it would be inappropriate for the legislative branch to be “unduly influenced” by the governor’s executive branch. Luedtke noted that when Hogan appointed members to his mapmaking commission, the governor gave them guidance for drawing the boundary lines.

The legislature, Luedtke said, should not “bow in obeisance” to any governor.

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Hogan’s map was introduced to the General Assembly on the first day of the legislative session earlier this month, and had lawmakers not acted within 45 days, it automatically would have gone into effect.

The map that advanced instead was the work of a bipartisan committee of top-ranking delegates and senators that was chaired by Karl S. Aro, retired director of the Department of Legislative Services.

Though Republicans participated in the legislative committee’s process, including in hearings and public voting sessions, they were outnumbered by Democrats and did not endorse the final map.

The map makes tweaks to districts across the state to account for shifting populations as the state grew to nearly 6.2 million residents over the past decade. Baltimore City, for example, loses one Senate district and another city district was adjusted so that it would now cross from North Baltimore over the city line into Towson due to the city’s continued population loss.

Maryland’s constitution requires that the districts be “of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population.” The constitution further requires: “Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”

Thursday’s debate on the new map stretched for nearly three hours over the course of two House sessions, with Republicans taking significantly more time on the microphone than Democrats.

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Del. Mark Fisher, a Calvert County Republican, brought a poster-sized map of Southern Maryland to make a point about why he thinks the districts were unfairly drawn in his community.

Democrats who led the redistricting process used the ability to draw subdistricts in some areas but not others as a tool to give themselves an advantage by grouping Democratic voters, Fisher charged.

“Let’s just say what it is: It’s cheating,” Fisher said.

Del. Jason Buckel, the Republican minority leader from Allegany County, noted the political reality of a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republican and independent voters. No matter how the lines are drawn, he said, Democrats are likely to win a majority of seats in the General Assembly.

“You don’t need to rig the game to win,” he said.

Del. C.T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat, predicted the map will withstand legal scrutiny.

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“You can bring a lawsuit on anything,” he said. “It doesn’t mean your argument is going to pass legal muster.”


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