Democrats in the Maryland Senate signed off on a new map of General Assembly districts for future elections Thursday, sending the once-a-decade reworking of the state’s legislative map to the House of Delegates for final approval.
The reconfigured boundaries, which delegates are expected to pass next week, are slated to go into effect before June’s primary elections. States are required to redraw electoral districts after each national census to reflect population changes and ensure that voters are given roughly equal weight in selecting political representative.
Senate Democrats passed the map on a party-line vote Thursday morning, again brushing aside objections from Republican lawmakers, who accused the majority of bending the map to their political advantage. The minority party backed an alternate proposal endorsed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Several Democratic senators called the new electoral map a fair one that will keep a majority of Maryland voters in their current state legislative districts, an aim embraced by the General Assembly’s leaders.
They also contended that the new map complies with the federal Voting Rights Act as well as the state’s constitution, which requires that General Assembly districts are compact, contiguous and take into account natural boundaries and existing political lines like county or municipal borders.
Maryland’s population grew by just over 7% since 2010, when the state last redrew its electoral maps. But some areas of the state saw significantly larger population gains or losses, requiring changes to the districts represented by the General Assembly’s 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, is set to lose a Senate district under the proposal while another city district would now cross from North Baltimore over the city line into Towson to take in enough voters.
Republicans, however, claimed that the map effectively cements Democratic control of a number of currently contested seats in the General Assembly and will mean more elections are effectively decided in party primaries, which draw more partisan voters, instead of in the general elections.
That ends up “disenfranchising an awful lot of people” who are independent voters and aren’t active in primaries, argued Sen. Edward Reilly, an Anne Arundel County Republican whose district is set to be altered substantially under the new map.
Hogan has repeatedly derided the redistricting plan backed by Democratic lawmakers and accused Democrats of “operating in secret” as they drafted the maps. Hogan submitted alternative maps drawn by a commission he created that was made up of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters. Several Republicans on Thursday repeated Hogan’s allegation that the process to create the maps lacked transparency.
Democrats bristled at that suggestion, noting that the commission that drafted the maps traveled the state to collect public input and took all of its votes at meetings open to the public.