The Frederick News-Post has consistently supported efforts to reform the state’s flawed, partisan redistricting system, including Gov. Larry Hogan’s establishing of a Redistricting Reform Commission.

We still have hopes that the commission will be able to forge a new, fair and politically acceptable method of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts after each decennial Census. A recent story in The Daily Record, however, reveals that the way forward for the committee is not clear and that its members are far from unanimous about how to proceed.

The commission was charged with holding public meetings around the state, which it has done, and then to report its official recommendations by Nov. 3. That’s next week, and some commission members say that deadline can’t be met in a responsible way, and that it needs to be extended. Considering what’s at stake here, we agree. The date on which this commission must submit its recommendations must take a back seat to the recommendations themselves.

Commission member Christopher Summers, who is also president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, is calling for a bold, unique approach that could make the state a model of redistricting reform that other gerrymandering states could use in remaking their politically tainted systems.

What that approach might be, we don’t know. We do know that creating an independent redistricting commission is already being done by a number of other states, and is under consideration within the reform commission. But whatever new system the commission proposes would require a constitutional amendment that both a supermajority of the General Assembly and voters would have to approve. Unfortunately, some members of the redistricting reform group say that establishing an impartial redistricting commission won’t fly in the Maryland General Assembly.

“You’re going to have a difficult time getting a constitutional amendment through the Legislature if it has an independent commission in it,” says Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, who is chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I don’t know a lot, but I know how to count. I can count,” she says, implying that such a proposal wouldn’t have the votes to even make it out of committee.

In theory, an independent redistricting commission would be free of political aims and would serve voters by ensuring fairer elections. It’s very clear, however, that this worthwhile initiative is being stymied by politics as usual. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller declared the reform effort dead in the water before the commission had even started its work. Members of Frederick County’s local delegation have also spoken against it. In all these cases, the argument has been that other states gerrymander their congressional districts, so Maryland needs to continue to do so as well.

We believe that Maryland should instead take the high road when it comes to this linchpin of democracy. Providing such an example could encourage, or shame, others to do the same.

If Conway is right about the dead-on-arrival status of an impartial redistricting commission, perhaps the reform group can come up with another approach. There is more than one way to ensure that congressional districts are fairly and impartially created. What, for example, is Summers alluding to when he speaks of “a system that’s very bold and unique”?

It seems clear that Hogan’s reform commission will not be ready to present its findings on Nov. 3. Its members should scrap that deadline and continue working on this important assignment until they can submit solid recommendations as a unified body.

There is no guarantee that the politically divided General Assembly is going to accept any recommendations that this commission creates, but if the Legislature rejects a thoughtful, fair and truly democratic replacement for the egregious gerrymandering that currently defines redistricting, it will be on them to explain why to voters.

(12) comments

JHSnider

The Frederick News-Post has not attended any of the Redistricting Reform Commission's workshops, and I would be careful about drawing any inferences from its second hand observations. Even the Daily Record, from which it draws its evidence, only attended the Commission's first workshop.

The Frederick News-Post says: "[W]hatever new system the commission proposes would require a constitutional amendment that both a supermajority of the General Assembly and voters would have to approve." This is flat out untrue, as I argued in my testimony at the Commission's public hearing in Laurel (see https://isolononline.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/2015-10-13-marylandredistrictingcommission-jhsnidertestimony1.pdf)

However, what the Frederick News-Post says about a more important point--the legislature's opposition to meaningful independent redistricting reform--is accurate. For this observation one doesn't have to know anything about Maryland; one simply has to look at the track record of state legislatures in all fifty states regardless of party control. Incumbent legislators, especially legislative leaders, will always prefer to draw their own districts so that they can pick their own voters; it's simply human nature.

It's good that the Commission is trying for an innovative approach even if it has little chance of passage in the legislature. The alternative would be, at best, a bipartisan independent commission that reduces partisan gerrymanders at the expense of worsening pro-incumbent gerrymanders (incumbent entrenchment is the only thing that bipartisan independent commissions agree upon). That would be a cure worse than the disease.

FrederickVeteran

Hogan is changing MD alright he's making it roads more congested, the races more divisive, demoralizing the public schools and pallng around with supremacist. [sneaky]

Jim Hartley

"The boundaries of congressional districts shall comprise no more than four straight lines, or a portion of a state boundary and no more than three straight lines."

ReadPhred

USE a combination of natural geographic boundaries like rivers, coasts and mountain ridge lines in combination with town, state and county jurisdictional boundaries. Why should my voting district by any different than my legal jurisdictional location. Then representation would more likely reflect the actual populace which is what it is meant to.

FrederickVeteran

Why not just contract with companies that republican algorithms to ensure victory?

DickD

Hogan's ideal would increase the Republicans in the state legislature, but that would not effect much, no matter how ideal, as the Democrats would still far outnumber them. This is like the House Republicans pushing to repeal Obama Care, they don't care how much they spend in a futile argument, as this is also.

jerseygrl42

lets undo the mess that tax and waste omalley created , thereby depriving Frederick County of representation ....except for the two Montgomery fellows

jsklinelga

A quick follow up. This is a very important issue. It undermines a basic sense of fairness. An advantage in Maryland may be a disadvantage elsewhere. Poking fun, like my last comment, may be counter productive. I hope the FNP keeps shining a light on its progress.

jsklinelga

FNP....Keep up the pressure on this issue. Everyone knows it flies in the face of equal representation, a founding principal. It may not succeed. There are others , such as Ms. LN-Wadlt that feel rural Western Marylanders are slightly backward and need the presence of a large block of urban MC voters to sway the elections and keep us on the path to enlightenment.

DickD

I know Linda very good, believe me she does not mean what you are stating here.

jsklinelga

DickD ...I like many of your comments and I was just poking fun. Unfortunately, or fortunately she has undermined the credibility of the new ethics panel. Gerrymandering has been ruled unconstitutional, but practically unenforceable. It would be admirable to have Maryland institute some leading reforms. i disagree in opinion about your other comment concerning the balance of Republicans vs. Democrats. Yes there would be more Democrats but Western Maryland may have had a Republican congressperson. Like you know Linda i have known the past three congress people prior to John Delaney. I feel he does not truly represent the views of Western Maryland

DickD

Maybe he doesn't des, but Roscoe Bartlett never represented many in western Maryland either, and he served 20 years, because Democrats were outnumbered. I am just happy we got rid of him and I do wonder because I see Bud Otis being such a fair man. You are wrong about Linda undermining the credibility of the new ethics panel. She would never try that and if she were to try that they would not let her succeed. There are many strong minded people on that committee.

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