In the opening salvo of what will probably be a protracted political battle, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Friday accused Democrats of historically “rigging the system” in drawing congressional and legislative maps and called on the Maryland General Assembly to accept new boundary lines drawn by an independent citizen commission.
“Unfortunately, for decades now, Maryland’s political power brokers have conducted the state’s redistricting process in secret — behind closed doors — rigging the system to eliminate competition, like concentrating one party’s voters as much as possible while segregating another party’s voters,” the governor said after being formally presented with congressional and legislative maps from the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.
This year will be the first time in modern history that Maryland has redrawn its maps under a divided government.
Hogan said he is hoping the Democratic-controlled legislature will use the citizen commission maps. Meanwhile, the legislative redistricting commissioners are finishing work on their own draft maps.
Political observers are closely watching what happens with Maryland’s congressional maps, with some saying that national Democrats are, in part, depending on Maryland to hold on to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022.
The congressional map approved by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012, after the 2010 census, was labeled by advocacy groups and redistricting experts as one of the most gerrymandered in the country and taken to court twice over allegations of partisan and racial gerrymandering.
In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Maryland case alleging partisan gerrymandering that federal court was not the appropriate venue to resolve issues around partisan gerrymandering. The judges ordered the lower courts to dismiss the case.
At the final meeting of the citizen commission, members praised the amount of public input they received, noting that there were 36 public meetings with more than 4,000 people in attendance. Retired Judge Alexander Williams Jr., who served as a co-chair of the panel, said the word “public” nearly 20 times during his presentation before Hogan received the maps. The emphasis was a way of drawing contrast to the Democratic-controlled legislature’s process.
The plan was designed without using voter history and attempted to acknowledge geographical boundaries, the leaders of the commission said.
Earlier this week the commission voted 8-1 in favor of the congressional maps during its final meeting. William Thomas, who represents Baltimore City, voted against the plan.
Thomas said he was not confident that the map reflects what Baltimore residents want or whether the new proposal is in the best interest of the city. He was disappointed in the lack of input from residents and local legislators over the months the commission spent deliberating.
Earlier this week, Thomas said he would have preferred an East-West split of Baltimore City but that there had been earlier objections from eastern Baltimore County residents who expressed their “desire to not be included in anything Baltimore related.”
“I really don’t know if it truly reflects what the people want to see in a map for a congressional district,” Thomas said before casting his vote.
Next month, the General Assembly will largely focus on the congressional map during its special session. It is also expected to take action on several Hogan vetoes, and with the retirement of Nancy Kopp, it will vote on a new state treasurer. The General Assembly will take up maps for the legislative districts when it returns for its regular session in January.