Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) has changed his stance on gerrymandering, a practice he embraced when he redrew the state’s congressional districts more than six years ago.
During a speech at Boston College last month, O’Malley, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he no longer supports partisan redistricting. He said manipulating voting boundaries for political purposes “digs ideological trenches around incumbents” and deepens the nation’s political divisions.
“As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand,” he said. “I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates.”
Attorneys challenging Maryland’s voting map as unconstitutional are now trying to learn more about O’Malley’s intentions during the state’s 2010 redistricting. Last week, they subpoenaed him to testify as part of a lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional districts.
A federal judge has ruled that a host of other current and former Maryland officials involved in the process, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), must comply with similar subpoenas, despite their efforts to avoid scrutiny by claiming “legislative privilege.”
Asked whether he will claim executive privilege in response to his subpoena, O’Malley said he plans to follow the advice of the state attorney general’s office, which is defending officials involved in the lawsuit. The agency declined to comment on the case.
In his speech, O’Malley said nonpartisan commissions should draw voting maps — the same position espoused by Gov. Larry Hogan, the moderate Republican whose 2014 defeat of then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) was seen as a repudiation of much of O’Malley’s legacy.
“We must, on a state-by-state basis, push for an end to gerrymandered congressional districts.” O’Malley said. “. . . This simple reform, already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy.”
He also said the United States should do away with the electoral college and promote “ranked voting,” where citizens can cast ballots for their first-, second- and third-choice candidates.
The U.S. Constitution allows states to draw their own congressional districts. In Maryland, the governor forms an advisory committee and works with the panel to draft plans, which are then submitted to the legislature for approval.
The lawsuit over Maryland’s redistricting plan focuses on the state’s 6th Congressional District and alleges that officials drew its lines to help unseat then-Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R), a 10-term incumbent who lost to Democrat John Delaney in 2012.
In an interview last week, O’Malley acknowledged that he never pushed for nonpartisan redistricting during his tenure, saying he was focused on other initiatives such as legalizing same-sex marriage, strengthening the state’s gun laws and eliminating the death penalty.
“We got a lot of difficult stuff done, but this is a goal that another governor will have to accomplish,” the former governor said. “Maybe in hindsight we could have made that part of the redistricting negotiations in 2010.”
Hogan proposed legislation last year and this year that would create a nonpartisan redistricting panel to set congressional and legislative districts for Maryland.
Democrats, who hold strong majorities in the state legislature, have called for national or regional redistricting reform instead, saying they don’t want to unilaterally disarm while many Republican-dominated states continue gerrymandering.
Hogan’s measure never advanced out of committee in 2016, and there is no sign it will fare differently during this legislative session.
O’Malley and Hogan said they have made no attempt to team up to push to end gerrymandering.
“We’ll try to reach out to him,” Hogan said this week. “I’m glad to have him on board.”
At least six states already use some form of independent commission for redistricting: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.
Critics of Maryland’s congressional map say it is one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, with several districts contorted in ways that make little sense geographically.
The 6th District covers much of Montgomery County, then winds north to the Pennsylvania line and turns sharply west to West Virginia. A federal judge once described the 3rd Congressional District as a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the state map is “a clear case of what gerrymandering looks like.”
“We only needed to move about 300,000 people to reflect the last census changes, but they moved over 1 million people,” she said. “Clearly there was motivation beyond us making sure the census was reflected in our districts.”
O’Malley insisted that the map he helped draft passes constitutional muster. But he said the process he used is antiquated and no longer serves the common good.
“It’s always, in all states, a partisan exercise,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t a process that I relished.”