ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday announced the creation of a nine-member nonpartisan panel tasked with the redrawing of the state’s eight congressional districts.
The sidestepping of state lawmakers comes after five years of unsuccessful efforts by Hogan to convince the General Assembly to adopt changes that would make the state’s districts potentially more competitive.
“Nowhere has gerrymandering been more rampant than here in the state of Maryland,” said Hogan, adding that the districts have “made a mockery” of the country’s electoral system. “Maryland citizens have been deprived of the ability to participate and it has embarrassed our state with the unfortunate distinction of being the worst, most gerrymandered, most unfair districts in America.”
Maryland has some of the most criticized congressional districts in the country. One judge referred to the 3rd Congressional District as a blood spatter at a crime scene and a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
“These absurdly drawn districts are the direct result of a blatantly obvious scheme where one party rigs the system to concentrate one party’s voters as much as possible while segregating another party’s voters into a large number of districts so that they can continue to win comfortably,” said Hogan.
Democrats in Maryland hold a roughly 2-1 advantage in registrations over Republicans. Prior to 2002, the state’s eight congressional districts were evenly split between the two parties. In 2002, redistricting increased Democratic seats in Congress. In the last round of redistricting nearly a decade ago, Republicans were reduced to one seat.
“It’s not just Republicans but in addition Black voters, as well, who continue to be underrepresented as a result of this same corrupt system,” said Hogan.
Hogan’s order creates a nonpartisan panel — the first in the history of the state — made up of equal number of Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters. On Tuesday he appointed retired U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams, a Democrat; Walter Olson, a Republican and senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies; and Kathleen Hetherington, an Independent who holds a doctorate in education and is president of Howard Community College.
The three co-chairs will be responsible for naming the remaining six members, who must themselves be registered with their current party or as an independent for at least the last three years. Members may not work for elected officials or candidates and cannot not be candidates for office themselves. Lobbyists are also prohibited from sitting on the panel.
Hogan’s order requires the panel to draw new districts that comply with the U.S Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The new districts must also be compact and contiguous, respect natural boundaries and political subdivisions and cannot take into account the party affiliation or voting history of residents.
“This is what the people of Maryland desperately want and it is what they deserve,” said Hogan.
Leaders in the General Assembly for years have said that a move to change how districts are drawn should come as part of a federal effort or even as part of a regional compact with states such as Virginia.
“This year, Democrats in the Legislature are focused on critical priorities, including COVID relief, police reform, equity, and looking out for the many needs of Marylanders,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson. “This session isn’t about political theatrics, and we hope the governor will join us in focusing on the priorities of Marylanders.”