Gov. Larry Hogan announced last week that he will establish, by executive order, a bipartisan commission to explore ways to reform Maryland’s disgraceful and undemocratic redistricting process. The goal is to create an independent, bipartisan commission to handle this important task.
Of course, it would be to Hogan’s and Maryland Republicans’ political benefit to replace the current partisan system, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. The highly prejudicial redistricting process that Maryland uses is an embarrassment to the Free State and needs to be replaced by an independent commission before the next U.S. Census in 2020.
This newspaper has editorialized numerous times on the inappropriate way that Maryland creates its congressional election districts. We support Hogan’s call for reformation of this blatantly partisan tradition. Getting rid of Maryland’s politically biased redistricting system is the right and fair thing to do for voters and the electoral process.
As reported in a recent Associated Press story, in his first State of the State speech, Hogan spoke about Maryland’s notorious tradition of gerrymandering election districts. “This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said, alluding to Maryland’s prominent place on the list of states where gerrymandering is employed to control the outcome of elections. Here, as in a number of other states, the redistricting process — the redrawing of the election-district map that follows each decennial Census — is controlled by the party in power.
The result can be highly irregularly shaped districts whose boundaries create the right mix of voters to ensure the desired election outcome. One of the districts on Maryland’s most recent map is among the most gerrymandered in the entire nation. Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District has been described as everything from a “crazy quilt” to a “blood spatter from a crime scene,” to our favorite, “a broken-winged pterodactyl lying prostrate across the middle of the state.”
For many Frederick County residents and other 6th District voters, this new map was a slap to the face. It helped ensure that 10-term GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett would go down in defeat to Democrat John Delaney, a Montgomery County businessman. It also silenced the political voice of majority Republican Western Maryland, from Frederick to Garrett counties. All this was accomplished by simply moving a populous chunk of heavily Democratic Montgomery County into the 6th District.
Many states already use a nonpartisan method for redistricting, most via an independent redistricting commission. Of course, it’s critical that such a body actually be nonpartisan. State Sen. Charles Middleton, D-Charles, says if the selection process “is done in a nonpartisan way, that’s fine. But you know,” he adds, “to set up a commission that you’re going to give this control, who appoints this commission? That becomes a political process in itself.”
He’s right, and defining that selection process may be this initial commission’s most critical challenge. There are a number of models to choose from among the states that have official redistricting commissions. We think it can be done to the satisfaction of both parties and voters alike.
We look forward to following the work of the commission and seeing what recommendations it comes up with. We look even more forward to a new election district map being drawn after the 2020 Census — a map we hope will be free of districts that resemble “blood spatter” or a “broken-winged pterodactyl.”
Maryland residents deserve to have their votes count. They also deserve to have an election process that they can believe in and support. Establishing an independent redistricting commission will help accomplish both of those important goals.