Some still seeking redistricting reform in Maryland -- Gazette.Net


The wide margin of approval for Maryland’s Congressional map will not stop redistricting reform from going forward, opponents say.

With most of the ballots counted, more than 63 percent of voters in Maryland approved ballot Question 5.

“The issue isn’t whether the maps passed or not,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy, who in the past has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to create a task force for making changes to the redistricting process. “The issue is whether our process is transparent and open and fair.”

Braveboy said she plans to introduce similar legislation in the upcoming session.

The map, drawn by a panel appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley that included Democratic leaders, was designed to make Western Maryland’s 6th District, which had been represented by longtime Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, more competitive. The new district lines swept south into more liberal Montgomery County, giving an advantage to Democrat John Delaney, who upset Bartlett on Tuesday, according to unofficial results.

Some have said the referendum was a chance to spur redistricting reform in Maryland, as has been done in a handful of other states. Some have called for a nonpartisan committee to draw the districts’ map.

“No legislature in the country wants to be the first to come out with a plan for proportional representation,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring. “The political parties are locked in a death-grip arms race over gerrymandering.”

The strange shapes in Maryland’s map are partly due to the strange shape of Maryland’s boundaries, and partly due to the partisan imperative of Democrats to increase the number of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Raskin said.

“It’s very easy to rail against weird-looking districts,” Raskin said. “If we want to be serious about representation, we have to look at the internal problem of politicians choosing voters rather than voters choosing politicians.”

That will require national leadership, rather than a piecemeal approach to reform from each state.

“Why should we do it [redistricting reform] if the Republicans in North Carolina and Ohio won’t do it?” said Raskin, noting that he would be in favor of reform on a national level.

Although the map, which was approved by the General Assembly, was upheld as legal by the Supreme Court in June, opponents collected about 65,000 signatures in a petition drive to put it on the ballot. With its approval, the map will be in place for the next 10 years.

“Of course there’s a political component, as there is everywhere,” said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Dist. 15) of the redistricting process. “I think it’s good that we have this plan for the next 10 years.”

In recent weeks, Democrats statewide began coming out against the map, saying that it did not protect the interests of minority communities, and would make it difficult for one person to represent the diverse interests of residents in far-flung neighborhoods.

But there was little momentum for the campaign amid a ballot question-heavy election that drew millions of advertising dollars for and against expanded gambling and same-sex marriage.

“Under normal circumstances you would think opposition wouldn’t even have reached 25 percent, because it looked very procedural and pro forma” said Greg Rabidoux, a spokesman for Common Cause, a national group working for more transparent government. “Given the way the question was worded and the low budget of the campaign compared to other ballot questions, there was actually more opposition than there could have been.”