By Patrick McGrady
Special to The Dagger
What is redistricting?
Every ten years, according to the US Constitution (Article 1, Section 2), every State in the Union must reallocate House of Representatives district lines according to the decennial Census.
Each State has the right to determine how to draw their district lines, but they must be drawn equally in number. A Supreme Court case from 1964 (Reynolds v. Sims) stopped States from drawing lines with hugely variable population numbers.
Why do we need to draw or change current Congressional Districts?
There are only 435 members of the House of Representatives. People are mobile and this means that large population shifts can occur over a ten year people in between Censuses.
For example, the 2010 Census indicate that the populations of New York and Ohio have not grown as fast as others and as a result, they both will lose 2 House seats in the current redistricting cycle.
Other states have had stronger growth, so they gain seats. Texas will gain 4 seats, and Florida will gain 2.
Maryland’s population grew 9% between the 2000 Census and 2010 Census, so we are neither gaining nor losing a House seat.
How does Redistricting Work?
21 States use a commission to draft the legislative and Congressional districts. States like Iowa remove all political affiliations from the process, and end up with Congressional districts drawn by County, that look like this map:
The other 29 States twist politics into the district-drawing process. Often, we end up with maps drawn like Ilinois’s Congressional District 4 (below) or Maryland’s Congressional District 2.
These maps are formed by politicians who seek to use the process of redistricting to achieve political gains– they effectively pick voters based on how they vote, instead of on geographic or community-based lines.
Like Illinois district 4, often these districts are only a single street wide, and can span hundreds of miles to achieve the desired political goals. Illinois CD-4’s purpose is to connect two Hispanic communities in Chicago.
These lines destroy community and almost guarantee poor representation in the US House of Representatives. How can a representative work for all of his constituents if they needlessly span hundred of miles and have no similar characteristics?
By picking their voters, the politicians are destroying any possibility of good governance by cementing incumbent politicians in place and using their power to limit try and limit debate.
What is “Gerrymandering?”
When a political process is used to create districts like Illinois CD-4 and MD-2, it is called “Gerrymandering”. This term comes from 1812 in Massachusetts, when Governor Elbridge Gerry used politics to draw a map to help political cronies. In the newspaper, this image was printed, cementing “gerrymandering” into the American lexicon.
How does redistricting happen in Maryland?
In Maryland, the State Constitution gives guidance on the State legislature redistricting, but not on Congressional Redistricting.
Traditionally in Maryland, the Governor of the State prepares a plan (through the Maryland Department of Planning) and then delivers the plan to the legislature.
The Governor creates a commission to hold hearings across the state, “listening” to what Marylanders think their district should look like, but the real process is undemocratic and secretive.
The plan prepared by the Maryland Department of Planning for the Congressional Redistricting is delivered to the Legislature and then voted on for approval.
The Congressional districts are drawn as politically as possible so that the most Maryland Democrats can win. This results in maps like the one above, from the 2000 redistricting.
Back in the 2000 redistricting cycle, Governor Glendening made the most of his last year in office by offering a Congressional plan that would secure a 6-2 split between Maryland Democrats and Republicans in Congress. This is why we have the maps we do today in which:
-Harford County is split in to three Congressional districts
-Baltimore City (with just enough people for a total CD) is split into three districts
-MD-2 runs from Havre de Grace to Dundalk to Reisterstown and to Fort Meade, while staying out of Baltimore City.
Here’s a link to that district, or see the image below. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/findyourreps.xpd?state=MD&district=2
Why does this matter to you, and what can you do about it?
As you can see, the Maryland House of Delegates and State Senate work with the Governor (all of the same party) to draw districts that secure incumbent power while working against the people of Maryland.
There are two distinct paths that the legislature can go down during this cycle of redistricting cycle. A plan has been proposed by the Maryland Republican Party that draws lines based on County borders and keeps communities compact.
See the map here:
The map they presented was praised in the Washingon Post here:
The other alternative could be an even more divided and destructive map that will try to secure total Democratic Party dominance over the state at the detriment of communities everywhere. Something like this district:
A zoom look shows how intense the Gerrymandering could be:
What’s the point? These Congressional lines are going to be cemented this October in a special session of the Legislature. The statewide hearings have begun already.
In another smack to the people of the State, you must sign up in advance of the meetings by email and either email or bring a hard copy of testimony that you provide. Please attend and consider testifying.
Here’s the link to the State page about the hearings: http://www.mdp.state.md.us/redistricting/2010/publicHearings.shtml
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Harford Community College
Amoss Center (next to Harford Technical H.S.)
Starts at 11:00 a.m.
200 Thomas Run Road
Bel Air, MD 21015
Parking all around school
Public Testimony Advance Sign-in
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Stephens Hall Theater
Starts at 2:00 p.m.
8000 York Road
Towson, MD 21252
Public Testimony Advance Sign-in
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Todd Performing Arts Center
Starts at 4:00 p.m.
1000 College Cir
Wye Mills, MD 21679
Here’s what I want you to take away from this long piece:
Politicians –whether you share a party affiliation or not– should not be able to draw you out of your community. You are not just an R (epublican) or a D (emocrat) on a map– you matter.
When you talk to your elected Delegates and Senators, tell them that they should take the politics out of redistricting and draw the lines based on PEOPLE, not PARTY.
Voters should pick their elected officials. Politicians should not be able to pick their voters!
Discuss this topic live with Patrick McGrady and Maynard Edwards at 8 a.m. Wednesday on WAMD 970 AM.