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Maryland lawmakers begin review of new map for General Assembly districts

Maryland lawmakers on Wednesday began their review of a new map for electing the 188 members of the General Assembly, but got very little feedback during a public hearing.

A video hearing that drew testimony from just seven members of the public was held two days after legislative leaders quietly dropped their proposed map on Monday night.

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“This is a woefully inadequate amount of time for meaningful feedback,” Beth Hufnagel of the League of Women Voters told members of the General Assembly’s Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee.

The committee is comprised of Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly and chaired by Karl Aro, a retired top adviser to the legislature. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the committee, which has been working on new district maps following the 2020 Census.

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The commission will propose maps to the full General Assembly when they return to Annapolis in January for their next legislative session. Hufnagel pressed the committee to make sure future hearings are scheduled with enough notice and livestreamed.

Gov. Larry Hogan blasted legislative leaders for the timing of Wednesday’s public hearing, posting on social media: “The Annapolis partisan politicians are trying to secretly jam through outrageously gerrymandered legislative maps the week of Christmas without even giving you time to sign up and give input.”

And Doug Mayer, a former Hogan aide who leads a group called Fair Maps Maryland, compared legislative leaders to a famously cynical Christmas character.

“The Maryland General Assembly is giving the Grinch a run for his money,” Mayer said in a statement. “Holding legislative hearings on a map that was purposefully released in the shadow of Christmas Day would be shocking if it weren’t completely in line with everything they have done to date. They held sham public meetings, made signing up to testify impossible, and are now using a worldwide, religious holiday to hide their dirty work.”

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Mayer promised that if the “outrageous and unconstitutional” proposed map is approved, then his group will file a legal challenge in court. He did not elaborate on how, specifically, the proposal is legally insufficient.

The map includes 47 districts, with one state senator and three state delegates in each. Some of the districts — but not all of them — are further split up into subdistricts with one or two delegates.

The Maryland Constitution requires the districts to “consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population.” The Constitution also states: “Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions.”

Those who testified during Wednesday’s video hearing largely offered criticism and suggestions for specific areas of the map.

Kevin Burke, for example, questioned why the community of Severna Park in Anne Arundel County is split among multiple districts. He questioned whether that was done to advantage or disadvantage some of the current state delegates.

“Severna Park and the broader area should not be carved up like a Christmas turkey to the benefit of self-serving politicians,” he said.

Linda Dorsey-Walker made a plea for the creation of a single-member delegate district in Owings Mills in Baltimore County. She said she feels African-American residents in her community aren’t currently represented well enough in Annapolis.

“We need to have our own voice and we’re tired of being told by others that we can represent you just as well as you can represent yourselves,” she said.

The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee will review the feedback and has the opportunity to make adjustments before creating a final proposal.

That proposal will be considered by the full General Assembly, which has 45 days to approve a map, otherwise a map proposed by the governor would be automatically adopted.

Hogan plans to propose a map drawn by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission that he appointed, though it’s not expected to be given serious consideration by lawmakers.

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