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For Maryland lawmakers and Hogan, it’s Redistricting Round 2

Gov. Larry Hogan will submit a new legislative district map by the Jan. 12 opening day of the legislative session. Lawmakers have 45 days to pass their own – or Hogan’s goes into effect. (DepositPhotos)

A legislative plan to redraw the state’s legislative districts is expected to move quickly through the General Assembly when the 2022 session opens Jan. 12 and potentially face a legal challenge.

Gov. Larry Hogan, the first Maryland Republican to preside over redistricting, must deliver his proposal for the 47 legislative districts on opening day. Most observers, however, acknowledge that after Hogan delivers his proposal, Democrats will largely disregard it in favor of their own plan.

“When politicians draw their own districts and pick their own voters the only outcome possible is extreme gerrymandering like this,” said Doug Mayer, a former aide to Hogan who is now a spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, a group that is seeking a more independent and nonpartisan redistricting process. “Some voters have one delegate, some have two, and some have three — that’s not equal representation, that’s electoral corruption. We look forward to seeing the folks who created these monstrosities publicly defend them under the bright lights of the Senate and House chambers. Should be very enlightening.”

As with the congressional maps, Hogan vowed to support only the recommendation of an independent commission he appointed. Unlike the congressional maps, however, Hogan cannot veto the final resolution passed by the legislature. (His veto was swiftly overridden on the same day earlier this month.)

Lawmakers then have until the 45th day to pass a plan — or the governor’s takes effect.

By law, new versions of the 47 Senate districts and the House of Delegates seats contained in them must meet certain requirements.

First, the districts must be compact and contiguous and mindful of jurisdictional and natural boundaries. It also, where practical, must take into account communities of interest. Federal voting rights protections must also be followed.

There is, however, wide latitude in the variation in the population of each. By law, they can be 5% above or below the target size — effectively a variation of potentially 10 percent.

In theory, two maps would be under consideration by the legislature.

The reality is far different.

Competing proposals

The first plan that is on the table is a proposal from a nine-member independent panel appointed by Hogan. The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission also proposed a rejected reapportionment of the state’s eight congressional districts.

“The faster we get certainty — the filing deadline for the 2022 election is mid-February — the sooner we can put this to bed,’ says Senate President Bill Ferguson. ‘It’s better for everyone who may run, who is running, to know what the lines may look like.” (The Daily Record/ File Photo)

Maryland has 47 legislative districts. Each elects one senator and three delegates. Currently, the majority of those districts elect delegates-at-large.

The plan Hogan backs features districts that favor smaller single-delegate subdistricts. Only about one-third of the 47 legislative districts call for three delegates to run at large.

The proposal reduces the number of full districts within Baltimore city from five to four. A fifth crosses the northwestern corner of the city into Baltimore County.

“I’d say parts of the map, like places around Prince George’s County, it’s a good opening discussion point,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

One feature of the proposal is an effort to create House subdistricts that could potentially increase the number of Latino delegates in Prince George’s County.

“The General Assembly should take a look at that,” said Antoine. “They should be paying attention to ways we can draw this in a way that there is more representation from these communities.”

But Antoine said she believes the Hogan map will be dead on arrival.

“We know that the General Assembly is not going to take any action (on Hogan’s proposal) whatsoever,” she said.

The second legislative redistricting map comes from a panel appointed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. Members of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission include two Republicans and two Democrats. It is chaired by Karl Aro. The former head of the Department of Legislative Services, Aro has guided three other redistricting efforts, including a 2002 effort that was struck down by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, says she expects the legislature’s redistricting plan to be challenged in court. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Marylanders got their first look at the legislative panel’s proposed map when it was released Monday night.

Unlike congressional redistricting, Senate President Bill Ferguson, said the commission released one “draft conceptual map” instead of four “because it’s just so many more lines.”

A public hearing was held less than 48 hours later.

Early reception

“Ten years ago, I said that Maryland’s state legislative districts looked like they were drawn by an over-caffeinated 4-year-old with a crayon,” Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said of the legislative panel’s maps in a post on Twitter Wednesday following a public hearing. “They clearly gave the kid a double espresso before drawing the newly proposed districts.”

Democrats hold super majorities in the House, 99-43, and Senate, 32-15, over Republicans.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel and a member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, expressed concerns about some Eastern and Middle Shore districts that he said unnecessarily push north and pull voters from Cecil County.

The areas are traditional Republican strongholds.

“There was some reason to pack the Eastern Shore and go further north and take away from existing districts and the people that are serving them,” said Simonaire.

Aro said the new districts build off the current maps.

“The plan we lived under, while some people probably didn’t like it, it was constitutional and it’s fine,” said Aro. “We’re building from that as we have done in the past to try and make things work from a population point of view and to try to keep as much together as we could for continuity.”

What would change

The new maps drawn by a panel of lawmakers does little to change those margins. And when it does, the changes mostly accrue to Democrats.

The legislative proposal makes use of some single member House districts, though not as many as the Citizens Redistricting Commission map. One- and two-member subdistricts are used in cases where districts cross jurisdictional boundaries.

In some cases, Democrats in vulnerable districts, are helped. For instance, Sen. Katie Frye Hester would see the more Republican areas of her district in Carroll County removed and replaced with precincts in deep-blue Montgomery County.

Some Republicans, like Anne Arundel County Sen. Ed Reilly, could see an already competitive district be even more favorable to a Democratic challenger.

The legislative map does reduce the number of legislative districts within Baltimore city from five to just a little over four. District 43, which is currently entirely within the city, would reach over the northern border with Baltimore County and extend into Towson up York Road to Goucher College. The district encompasses four other colleges: Towson University, Loyola, Johns Hopkins and Morgan State University.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel and a member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, says the panel’s plan unnecessarily moves mainly Republican voters out of their current districts in the Eastern and Middle Shore districts. (The Daily record/File Photo)

District 44, which used to be partially within the city and into western Baltimore County, is now fully in Baltimore County. The new district features two subdistrict slivers. One would be comprised predominantly of Black voters. The other covers the greater Catonsville area of southwest Baltimore County.

In Western Maryland, mapmakers placed all of the City of Frederick, which is very Democratic, into District 3. Wrapped around that is District 4, a larger, more Republican area. The two together give the appearance of a donut with the city district creating the hole in the center.

Del. Jason Buckel, R-Allegany and a member of the legislative redistricting panel, said he understood the interest in “keeping Frederick city combined, which it has been in the prior map.”

But the Republican House leader expressed concerns for the compactness and “donut effect” of District 4.

Aro and others said they believed the new district would meet the legal definition of compactness.

Headed to court?

The final plan is expected to be approved before mid-February.

“I think we need to act quickly,” said Ferguson, the Senate leader. “The faster we get certainty — the filing deadline for the 2022 election is mid-February — the sooner we can put this to bed. It’s better for everyone who may run, who is running, to know what the lines may look like.”

But many expect a legal challenge in state court.

Because of that potential, some have been cautious of making public comments about the maps drawn up by the legislative panel.

“There’s not much we can talk about,” said Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee. “We’re using the guiding (legal) principals, of course, but there’s not much I can talk about.”

King said she expects the approved redistricting plan will go to court.

Mayer, the spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland, wouldn’t commit to legal action similar to the challenge to the new congressional districts. He would also not rule it out.

“Well, I’m an optimistic person by nature, but they have shown zero willingness to compromise and less concern with public opinion,” said Mayer. “But let’s see what happens.”