By: Bryan P. Sears
A majority of Marylanders say they want a more independent process when it comes to the decennial redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Statewide, 73 percent of those surveyed earlier this month said they prefer redistricting to be done by an independent commission, according to the poll.
The poll question on redistricting was paid for by the Greater Baltimore Committee and part of a larger survey conducted Oct. 1-9 by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies. The Annapolis-based polling firm surveyed 819 registered voters who said they were likely to vote in 2014.
Gene Bracken, a spokesman for the committee, said the lopsided poll numbers were surprising and was not able to immediately explain the public response.
“The why could be a lot of things,” Bracken said. “I don’t know the answer to the why it was so overwhelming. We only asked the one question.”
Bracken said that despite the organization’s support for a change in how districts are drawn they put a lot of care in drafting what he called “a decidedly simple question.”
Poll Question: The U.S. Constitution requires states to create legislative voting districts and to adjust these districts every 10 years to reflect census results. In Maryland, voting districts are drawn up by the state’s elected officials. In some other states, voting districts are drawn up by independent commissions.
In your opinion, which is the better approach? Have voting districts drawn up by:
- Elected officials
- Independent commissions
“We knew how a lot of business leaders felt and we knew how we felt but we really didn’t know how this was going to come back,” Bracken said. “We really wanted to know the answer.”
Currently, Maryland’s governor is responsible for the appointment of a redistricting committee that holds public hearings on potential state legislative redistricting plans. The governor is required by law to introduce a plan on the first day of the legislative session in the second year following each census. That plan becomes law in 45 days unless the General Assembly enacts its own plan.
In the most recent round of redistricting, three of the five members of the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee were current or former state legislators including: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and former Del. James King.
Both Miller and Busch are Democrats. King is a Republican.
The governor is not legally required to redraw the congressional districts every 10 years but traditionally submits a plan.
Only 19 percent of those surveyed said they wanted elected officials to continue redraw the districts.
The idea of using an independent commission to draw Maryland’s legislative and congressional redistricting is not new. Previous efforts have gone nowhere.
“You have to get the people who are drawing the districts to give that up and go to another form,” Bracken said.
“If this effort is ever going to gain any traction in Annapolis it’s going to have to come from leadership,” Bracken said. “It’s an election year so maybe someone will think this is a good idea.”