Maryland Democratic lawmakers settled on a new proposed congressional map that would continue to give Democrats strong advantages in seven of Maryland’s eight congressional districts and make the state’s final district, currently a Republican stronghold, more competitive as well.
The Maryland Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission selected the map on a 4-2 party-line vote during a virtual hearing Tuesday night, over the objections of the panel’s Republican members.
The map will be the starting proposal when lawmakers meet next month in a special session to redraw congressional boundaries.
Democrats hold wide majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and, despite likely opposition from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, are expected to be in control of the redistricting process. Hogan holds the power to veto congressional maps, but if Democrats remain largely united, they will have more than enough votes to override him.
Lawmakers could continue to revise the proposed map, or even replace it altogether, during the special session, although the proposal won the backing of the top four legislative Democrats at Tuesday night’s vote: Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Senate President Pro Tem Melony Griffith and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke.
The proposed map would redraw the 1st District, currently a deep-red Eastern Shore-based district represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, to jump the Chesapeake Bay and include significant portions of Anne Arundel County. That would add more Democratic-leaning voters to the district, making it more competitive, but Republicans still would have a shot at holding onto the seat.
Carroll County, parts of which are currently in 1st District, would be shifted largely to the 8th District, a seat held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, with a small portion also in the 3rd District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes.
The proposal would split Baltimore between the 2nd and 7th districts and largely retains the sprawling, irregular districts of the current map.
Democrats on the commission praised the draft map they chose as one that would improve on the current map while avoiding shifting too many voters to a new district.
Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, called it more straightforward and easier to read than the current congressional boundaries with, for instance, neighborhoods in Baltimore City split along better-known streets rather than the current patchwork arrangement.
[ Maryland legislators’ maps would leap U.S. Rep. Andy Harris’ district over the Chesapeake Bay to bring in more Democrats. Will they go further? ]
But the two Republican members blasted the map as “too gerrymandered.” Allegany County Del. Jason Buckel and Sen. Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel favored instead maps drawn by a separate commission tapped by Hogan.
Maryland Policy & Politics
That commission’s membership was balanced among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. It proposed a congressional map that would give Republicans — who are consistently supported by roughly a third of Maryland voters — a strong chance at winning at least two, and perhaps three, congressional seats.
The current boundaries have been criticized as among the most gerrymandered in the nation, though they have largely survived legal challenges, including a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled that federal courts should not police partisan gerrymandering. Several of Maryland’s districts snake through the Baltimore region, including the 3rd District, which a federal judge described as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
Some national Democrats had hoped — and Republicans feared — that Maryland lawmakers would be even more aggressive in gerrymandering the state’s congressional map in their favor, drawing lines in such a way to give the party control of all eight seats. Democrats face a difficult task of holding their narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in next year’s midterms.
Republicans control this year’s redistricting process in more states than Democrats and appear likely to pick up several congressional seats simply by reworking the maps in red states such as Texas and North Carolina. Some Democrats had hoped to squeeze extra seats from a handful of deep blue states like Maryland and Illinois.
Hogan and other Maryland Republicans have derided the state’s congressional maps as a partisan power grab. But a number of Democrats have defended their partisan advantage in Maryland as a fair balance to Republican gerrymandering elsewhere.
Lawmakers will address only the congressional maps during the special session, which is scheduled to begin Dec. 6. The state legislative maps will be redrawn during the regular session that begins Jan. 12.
Karl S. Aro, who was picked by the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to lead the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said he planned to publicly release a number of draft proposals for state legislative maps after the special session ends in mid-December.