The new congressional map, drawn after the census every 10 years, offers Democrats seven safe congressional seats while making the state’s only Republican district more competitive for Democrats.
Maryland Democrats were under pressure to retain their current stronghold in the state’s congressional delegation given that national Democrats are in jeopardy of losing control of the U.S. House after next year’s midterm elections. And from Ohio to Texas, Republicans control redistricting in far more states than Democrats, meaning the GOP is already picking up more seats through partisan gerrymandering in the states that have completed maps.
The changes in Maryland could put Rep. Andy Harris (R) at risk in 2022, depending on the national atmosphere.
“This map takes the Eastern Shore and points it into Anne Arundel County,” said state Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel), noting how the new 1st District would jump the Chesapeake Bay. “And it is my opinion that it is for the sole purpose of removing the sole remaining Republican congressman. And I find that problematic.”
Maryland Republicans acknowledged throughout debates this week that their counterparts in other states were engaging in unfair political gamesmanship, as well — but they implored Democratic colleagues with some variation of the adage that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Democrats were not swayed. They shot down Republican amendments in both chambers that would have substituted the map drawn by Hogan’s citizen advisory commission for Democrats’ preferred alternative. The citizens’ commission map likely would have yielded a delegation of six Democrats and two Republicans. It received an A grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project — which Democrats repeatedly tried to discredit — versus an F for the Democrats’ map.
“History is not going to look back on this body’s decision kindly,” Del. Lauren C. Arikan (R-Hartford) told the House chamber Tuesday, framing Democrats’ justifications as an “end justifies the means” exercise. “We all know it.”
Maryland’s last round of redistricting led to some of the most high-profile legal battles over partisan gerrymandering in the nation. One case over the 6th Congressional District in Western Maryland went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the former governor admitted Democrats drew the lines for the specific purpose of ousting a Republican incumbent. In the end, the high court ruled that federal courts were not the proper avenue for partisan gerrymandering claims — enabling politicians to continue the practice that critics say is only intensifying polarization nationwide.
Fair Maps Maryland, a nonpartisan anti-gerrymandering group, said it was already planning to take “aggressive legal action” against the map in state court.
“We look forward to seeing Governor Hogan veto this ridiculous and unconstitutional map as soon as possible,” said organization spokesman Doug Mayer. “Make no mistake — this level of gerrymandering is voter suppression.”
Maryland Democrats repeatedly stressed this week that the new map was drawn to keep as many people in the same congressional districts as possible and to keep the core of the districts the same. In turn, this commitment to minimally disrupting the map also kept incumbents in their districts — in some cases just barely, such as in Districts 2 and 3, where incumbents’ residences in Cockeysville and Towson, respectively, are very close to the boundary lines.
Democrats also argued that the new map corrected some of the convoluted lines that plague the current map, while keeping communities of interest intact. They also argued it reflected the state’s growing diversity. Maryland, which added roughly 400,000 people since 2010, was one of two states to flip from being majority-White to having a majority of people of color over the past 10 years.
“The congressional map proposed in the bill has cleaner and significantly more compact districts than the current map,” state Senate Majority Leader Nancy King (D-Montgomery) said Thursday. “It demonstrates a commitment to the federal Voting Rights Act by ensuring minority voters retain their ability to elect their preferred candidates. And it ensures continuity of representation by keeping a majority of Marylanders in their current districts.”
Republicans looked dubiously on some those justifications.
“When you start with a gerrymandered map as the basis, and you say our goal was to keep as many people in the district as possible,” asked state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), “how are you not going to end up with a gerrymandered map again?”
And how, Republicans questioned, could Democrats possibly consider the D.C. suburbs in Montgomery County a community of interest with people who live near the Susquehanna River in Harford County? The 3rd Congressional District — once lambasted by a federal judge as resembling a “broken-winged pterodactyl” — is “more compact” in the new map only because it couldn’t possibly be worse, charged House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany).
Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Hartford) compared the Baltimore-area districts to a fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus rex, holding up his 8-year-old son’s toy dinosaur from “Toy Story” to make his point.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) objected to his antics, “that’s what it looks like to me. It looks like a T. rex. The best part, and I don’t know who did the coloring, but he’s got fire breathing out of his mouth, and I think that’s District 7.” (It is actually District 2, in the coastal areas south of Baltimore.)
In a statement to The Washington Post before the map passed, Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who represents the 3rd District, stressed that the General Assembly “should adhere to principles that respect the voters and ensure fair representation in Congress.” But he declined Thursday to elaborate beyond the past statement on his opinion of the final map.
Dave Wasserman, a redistricting analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Maryland is one of few states where partisan map drawers actually stopped short of snatching the maximal possible advantage — in this case, an 8-0 shutout.
Harris’s critics supported making his district more competitive particularly in light of his objection to the 2020 election results. Democrats swung the 1st District 19 points in their favor — transforming it from a district that President Donald Trump won by 19.6 points in 2020 to one President Biden would have won by 0.3 points. But Wasserman noted when map drawers crossed the Chesapeake Bay to put parts of Anne Arundel County in the 1st District, they bypassed blue Annapolis, leaving it an uphill climb for Democrats to challenge Harris.
“For Democrats to take the 1st District across the Bay Bridge but bypass Annapolis, it strikes me as the equivalent of trekking a long way to a famous pizzeria and ordering salad,” Wasserman said.
For one, Wasserman said, an 8-0 Democratic shutout — in a state where Republicans make up about a quarter of registered voters and Democrats just over half — could provide the GOP more ammunition for a legal challenge.
But also, not all Democratic congressmen would have embraced a shutout. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), for one, previously called it an “overreach” for Democrats to seek an all-Democratic delegation that would essentially “lock out” Republican voters’ voices.
A number of national Democrats, including Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.) in the neighboring 8th District, have said their party should not “unilaterally disarm” on partisan gerrymandering unless Republicans lay down their weapons, too. Raskin noted last week that the only way that would be possible is if Congress passed federal legislation such as the For the People Act, which Sarbanes sponsored. The legislation includes a provision that would require states to use independent redistricting commissions. Republicans have blocked the bill in the Senate.
In the meantime, Raskin lamented the continued gerrymandering but said it is “almost the inevitable political outcome” when politicians of either party are the ones drawing the lines.
“It’s driving the country into a totally polarized situation,” he said.
Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.