ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland’s two redistricting commissions are both working to draw new congressional and legislative maps, but their perceived goals and their potential for success are different.
The state’s Republican governor named a nine-member panel evenly shared among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. And at the same time, the state’s Legislature has its own Democratic-controlled panel.
And because of the state’s politics, one of these panels is more likely to see its maps come to fruition: the Legislature’s.
Members of both commissions face a recent history rife with gerrymandering and drawn-out legal action.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, announced the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission in July.
Karl Aro, former head of the Department of Legislative Services, chairs the Democrat-majority legislative commission.
Jones and Ferguson will also serve as members, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, and House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, R-Allegany.
Gov. Larry Hogan, R, established the Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission by executive order in January.
Hogan appointed three co-chairs to the commission: one Republican, one Democrat, and one unaffiliated voter.
The other six members went through a public application process and include two Republicans, two Democrats, and two unaffiliated voters.
The citizen commission is holding the second of three rounds of meetings where members of the public can present maps or give testimony on draft maps.
Alex Williams, a former federal judge for the District of Maryland, is the commission’s Democratic co-chair.
Williams told Capital News Service he likes the balanced political makeup of the commission and said their goal is to be fair and independent.
“We have to abide and adhere to the governor’s order,” Williams said. “We are not to take into consideration a lot of the politics of the state.”
Williams was also co-chair of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, which in 2015 recommended an independent redistricting commission as a response to previous partisan gerrymandering.
The 2011 map was championed by Maryland’s governor at the time, Martin O’Malley.
O’Malley admitted to drawing a map meant to benefit Democrats in what he called an effort “to push back” against Republican gerrymandering in other states.
In the 2012 congressional election, long-time incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R, lost his 6th District seat to Rep. John Delaney, D.
The 2011 map removed a conservative portion of the 6th district and handed Democrats a 7-1 majority in Maryland’s congressional delegation. About 55% of registered voters in the state are Democrats and 24.7% are Republicans.
Maryland’s current congressional district map was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled in 2019 partisan gerrymandering was not a question for the courts; the practice remains legal.
The current map was approved in 2011 after a process criticized for a lack of transparency.
Williams thinks this year’s process from the citizen commission improves on that issue.
“Transparency is very important to our commission. All of our work sessions, all of our public sessions are online and they’re public,” Williams said.
Later this year, the citizen commission will submit proposed maps to the governor, who will submit his version of the plan to the Legislature.
The state Legislature, where Democrats hold a supermajority, has final authority over what map becomes law.
The legislative redistricting commission will also recommend their maps for consideration.
That commission held an organizational meeting in August to discuss its constitutional duties.
As in the Legislature, Democrats hold more seats than Republicans on the commission, which will require only a simple majority to approve maps.
Simonaire said that won’t promote consensus building.
He hopes to listen to the public’s needs during the redistricting process.
“My goal is, I’m not looking to advance a political party, whether Democrat or Republican,” Simonaire said. “But rather advancing the people’s interest.”
Simonaire also hopes to keep communities together when drawing maps.
He said the 2011 map split up Anne Arundel County, where he lives, too much.
“We feel like the stepchild of Maryland because we don’t have any majority congressional representative in our district.”
Parts of Anne Arundel County are included in four separate congressional districts.
Simonaire intends to fulfill his duties as part of the legislative commission, but said he hopes the citizen commission maps will serve as a baseline for the eventual congressional boundaries.
Todd Eberly is a professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
He’s in favor of two commissions, in part because it will show what a map drawn, in part, by people outside the dominant party could look like.
Hogan’s citizen commission’s map, according to Eberly, would create more politically competitive districts.
Eberly said that would likely make it a “non-starter” in the Legislature.
He added that the goal of a congressional map should be representation, but it wasn’t in the last round of redistricting.
“There’s a goal here,” Eberly said. “And that goal was to maximize seats for the Democrats.”
That goal led to a map that doesn’t fit the redistricting principles of compactness and contiguity.
Some districts snake across the state, even being split in half by water.
Ebery said if the Legislature would like to preserve Democratic power in Maryland’s congressional delegation, there are possible maps that would do so while being more compact and respecting community boundaries.
The challenge would come from trying to protect incumbents based on where they live and how competitive their districts are.
“Incumbents are not going to be happy if you put their percent down,” Eberly said, adding that candidates grow used to winning by a comfortable margin.
Redistricting will also include redrawing the state’s legislative maps, which Eberly said look like they were drawn by an “over-caffeinated 4-year-old with a crayon.”
The commissions will draw state Senate and House maps as well, but a vote in the Legislature is not expected until after Congressional maps are approved.
Maryland’s legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years based on new census data.
Districts are expected to be similar in population number and cannot legally be gerrymandered based on race.
The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission is scheduled to meet Monday at 6 p.m. in room 227 of the Largo Student Center at the Largo campus of Prince George’s Community College.
The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission plans to hold a virtual public meeting Monday at 6 p.m.
This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org on Friday, September 17, 2021.