Frederick County will undertake a complete review of voter addresses in 2019 after multiple homes were found to be assigned to the wrong congressional district during the 2018 midterm election.
The error was identified and corrected by county staff during the election. However, there should be no errors in the county’s voter files, county Election Director Stuart Harvey said Tuesday.
“You don’t want any margin of error,” Harvey said. “Let me be blunt, you want it to be right from the get-go.”
The problem came to the attention of the public on Election Day when the Frederick County Board of Elections announced it was calling eight voters back to the polls to cast provisional ballots, after incorrectly assigning some residents near Lake Linganore to a polling place in congressional District 8 instead of District 6.
In all, 73 registered voters live in the area affected by the error, but election staff were able to redirect a majority of voters to the correct polling location before they cast a ballot.
However, the same problem was also identified on the northwest side of the city of Frederick during early voting.
Sally Snodgrass of Rocky Springs Road went to the Senior Center during early voting and partially filled out her ballot before realizing the U.S. House of Representative candidates were not the ones she had researched. Snodgrass lives very close to the line between congressional District 6 and District 8, but a search of county maps shows her home is squarely in District 6.
The homes in Lake Linganore were also very close to the congressional boundary between districts 6 and 8.
“There’s no question, it was simply a manual error on the part of staff,” Harvey said of both clusters.
Election judges were immediately notified of the incorrectly assigned voters and given a process to send them to the correct polling location or to vote provisionally, Harvey said. During early voting, he was only aware of one voter — other than Snodgrass — to be assigned to the wrong congressional district.
To fix the error in the long-term, Frederick County will compare the addresses of all registered voters — known as “street files” — to county Geographic Information System (GIS) maps to verify congressional, legislative and county council districts, Harvey said. New GIS technology will allow the county to pinpoint to the house-level all the district boundaries.
“We have much more sophisticated tools than when we did redistricting in 2012,” Harvey said.
The county Board of Elections also plans to implement a new two-person check policy, which will have a separate employee check each change made to the voter street files, he said.
It was troubling to hear the error had taken place in Frederick County, said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, who won re-election in congressional District 8. He will be joined in Congress by David Trone (D), who will represent District 6.
“Fortunately, it didn’t make any difference in the eighth or sixth district race in the final outcome, but that shouldn’t be the test,” Raskin said.
Rethinking District 6
Maryland’s congressional map could be completely redrawn before the next presidential election in 2020.
A panel of three federal judges ordered Maryland on Nov. 7 to submit a new congressional map by March 2019. The existing map has been challenged by Republicans all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for partisan gerrymandering in favor of electing Democrats.
Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) filed a request to place a hold on redistricting until the Supreme Court acts on Maryland’s appeal, the Associated Press reported. Before being elected as attorney general in 2014, Frosh served on the Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting in the General Assembly and played a role in drawing the maps. In August 2017, more than 20 Republican delegates issued a letter asking Frosh to recuse himself from the court case involving the 6th District maps.
Frederick County will not wait on the courts to begin local verification of the boundaries as they are currently drawn, Harvey said. And, Raskin has plans of his own to change how the U.S. draws its congressional districts.
Raskin co-sponsored House Bill 3057 called the “Fair Representation Act” in June 2017 to change the process all states use to draw their congressional districts. Among the requirements in the bill, it aims to require independent commissions to conduct redistricting processes. The bill has not made it past introduction in the 115th Congress, but with Democrats regaining a majority in the House in the November election, he expected many voting rights and election integrity bills to reach the floor.
The country needs independent redistricting committees and to experiment with different ways to represent the state’s population, Raskin said.
The issue is that if a state population is split 60 percent in favor of one party and 40 percent the other — and the population’s political opinions are spread evenly between districts — one party will always get 100 percent of the seats.
Democrats have gerrymandered states in response to Republican gerrymandering in other states. It all strikes at the heart of the issue, which is politicians need to get out of districting, Raskin said.
The other option is for the Supreme Court to make a definitive decision to strike down partisan gerrymandering. The court, however, has a tendency to walk up to the edge of the pool and never jump, Raskin said.
Raskin believes redistricting will occur in Maryland either through court order or a Supreme Court decision. Whether redistricting will take place in other states, is still to be determined.
“Obviously, I prefer a nationwide solution,” Raskin said.