The media get it. The Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette, the Frederick News-Post and the Maryland Reporter have all run opinion pieces calling for redistricting reform in Maryland.
The voters get it. A February Goucher poll revealed that 72 percent of respondents preferred election districts be determined by an independent commission and only 23 percent of respondents wanted elected officials to determine voting districts.
Why don’t members of the Maryland General Assembly get it? Maybe they do, but they certainly don’t appear willing to buck the system and vote for meaningful reform, because the solution they proposed is a non-starter.
The fact that they passed legislation called “Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission — Mid-Atlantic States Regional Districting Process” shows that they realize partisan gerrymandering is a problem — and it isn’t going away. However, this halfhearted acknowledgment is unlikely to yield actionable results. The legislation says that Maryland won’t adopt a nonpartisan redistricting process until New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina adopt something similar. As Mark Twain said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
The League of Women Voters of Maryland and Common Cause Maryland believe that reform starts at home. In 2015, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) convened a nonpartisan Redistricting Reform Commission. After months of hearings, research and discussion, the commission came up with a sound proposal that was translated into legislation for the past two sessions of the Maryland General Assembly. That legislation was never given the time of day.
Under the commission’s proposal, Maryland citizens would apply to serve on a redistricting commission. The applications would be sorted into three categories to create balance: majority party, minority party and neither party. Applicants would have to meet six criteria to be considered, including that they have not run for or served in state or federal office during the five years preceding appointment and do not have an immediate family member who has run for or served in state or federal office during the five years preceding appointment. A group of three legislative auditors would narrow the field to 10 qualified applicants from each category based on relevant skills, impartiality, diversity and geography. A random drawing would further narrow the pool, resulting in an independent commission composed of three members of the minority party, three members of the majority party and three members of neither party.
This commission would then draw and propose congressional and legislative district maps for adoption by the legislature. The resulting maps must conform to the federal Voting Rights Act. The map drawers may not use data that considers party affiliation, voting records or incumbent residences. And, to the extent possible, the districts on the maps would be required to be contiguous and compact and must respect geographic and political boundaries.
This process would result in real reform that endeavored to discover and carry out the true will of Marylanders — not the false promise of reform as passed this legislative session. Maryland has just one more session to get it right before the next census. The General Assembly should get it right once and for all.
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